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Ascending Artist Program Provides Creative Vocational Option

Image of Brian Krutzler, wearing a gray hoodie, holding up a card with a green and yellow leaf print he made.

BHMA has been undeniably vibrant since its founding, and the glow has grown stronger in recent months. Beautifully bright student-made paintings now adorn the walls in each office throughout the building. Filled with everything from dandelions to geometric prints, the works of art offer a welcome dash of color and a reminder of the growth BHMA is experiencing.

The Ascending Artist Program was launched in Spring 2017 and is now part of BHMA’s new Vocation Department. The program’s mission is “to instill beauty into our community by raising disability awareness, changing perceptions of ability, and supporting our students on their journey toward creative employment.” The art initiative marks the expansion of BHMA’s core belief that people with disabilities have unique creative abilities. Though music remains the connector among our students, there are now additional options for them to pursue meaningful employment.

Image of Brian, Emma, Carly, and Tim standing behind a wooden table holding greeting cards that feature the leaf prints they made; more cards are scattered on the table.

Karen Morison, a longtime Life Skills Teacher, directs the Ascending Artist Program. As she describes, “students are engaged in every step of the art creation process and are considered working artists.” They build transferable work and social skills every day, learning lessons such as teamwork, time management, and focus. The individuals have considerable ownership over their artistic method—setting up and breaking down their workstation, and selecting what colors and materials to use. It is a process of discovery, Morison says, as students experiment with different combinations to see what produces the most aesthetically pleasing results.  

Scan of a print with four orange leaves and two green leaves against a white background.

BHMA’s working artists have made paintings, prints, and note cards—each an expression of the individual that created it. The collection of work produced throughout the semester has been sold at an art show, with 100% of the profits going to the students. After two successful sales, the fall semester’s unit has plans for student artwork to be on display and for sale at the South Hadley Library during the month of December. A “Meet the Artists” event will also be held on December 8, 2017 to highlight the talented individuals creating art and breaking barriers.  

The underlying idea of the Ascending Artist Program is to generate greater opportunities for students to follow their artistic passions, and to get paid for utilizing their creative abilities. The initiative is gaining momentum, as our working artists continue to ascend to new heights with every work of art they create. The scattering of paintings throughout BHMA is just the first sign of the positive and colorful changes that are to come.


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