Empowerment through art

Art & Soul opens at Town & Country Fine Art Center

By Sara Mastbaum

Photo: Art & Soul 2013 award winning artist Alicia Jones

Every April, a group of artists is selected for a unique, juried mixed media show displayed at the Fine Art Center at Town & Country Shopping Center in Kettering. Artists from 22 Ohio counties compete for a spot in the annual Art & Soul exhibition, which celebrates the artwork of adults living with developmental disabilities.

A collaboration between several area agencies offering resources for developmentally disabled individuals, the original Art & Soul was held in 2008. Two nonprofit agencies, Toward Independence and Partners for Community Living, came together to honor the work of these local artists.

“Both agencies had a vision for spreading awareness and recognition of the creative talents of artists with developmental disabilities in southwest Ohio,” Toward Independence Development Officer Jodi Hill said. “The ongoing success of the exhibit is proof of the effectiveness of our long-held philosophy that by working together and partnering with other organizations, we can accomplish much more on behalf of men, women and children with developmental disabilities than we ever could alone.”

In its six years, the exhibition has grown exponentially. Last year’s opening night reception and awards ceremony drew a crowd of over 250 guests, and the jury received nearly 240 works of art for consideration. “It’s really well-attended and very, very popular,” Mary Clifford, Town & Country Fine Art Center board president said. “It’s so popular, we need to have the mall give us the hallways.”

While the number of entries for last year’s event was outstanding, only 40 pieces are chosen for display. “The artists whose work is selected for the exhibit take great pride in their accomplishments,” Hill said. “Art & Soul is juried by a panel of objective, professional artists from the Miami Valley area, and the artwork is selected with great contemplation and a strict focus on artistic credibility, regardless of disability. In other words, entries are selected based on their artistic value, communicated via the abilities of the entrant artists.”

The artists are encouraged to express themselves and create work “from their souls,” hence the exhibition’s title.

“It’s a fabulous art exhibit,” added Clifford. “It’s just astounding how good the art is. We get a thrill out of having them here; there’s nothing not positive about it.”

The work on display is also judged for a number of awards. First through 10th-place awards are handed out, as well as four separate special prizes, including the Directors Award and the Art & Soul Planning Committee Award. Winners are traditionally announced at the opening reception.

As all of the participating organizations are nonprofits, community support is a major factor in presenting Art & Soul. “Art & Soul would not be in existence without the support of our wonderful sponsors and event donors, many of which have been involved with the exhibit from its inaugural year in 2008,” Hill said. “Along with 3F Coaching and several local county developmental disabilities boards, “Sketches Framing Art & Home Décor in Beavercreek is also a valued sponsor, donating over $2,000 in professional framing,” Hill continued.

“The gallery is a nonprofit organization and always happy to help people with disabilities,” Clifford said.

All the work on display is for sale, and 100 percent of the net profits go to the artists themselves. Over half of the pieces generally sell during the two-week exhibition.

Misconceptions still exist about people living with developmental disabilities, and the show aims to help eliminate those. “Unless you are around people with disabilities, you think they’re different,” said Clifford. “But they’re not […] There’s that fabulous person inside.”

“Art & Soul has been instrumental in chipping away at old societal misperceptions of people with developmental disabilities, instead spotlighting their contributions to society and admirable talents in a very public way,” Hill said. “We are most delighted with the level of public awareness Art & Soul has generated over the years as to the abilities of people with disabilities. Event patrons, representatives of local media, and general community members have comented countless times on the artistic validity of the pieces in the exhibit.”

Overall, the exhibition is a means of empowering and bringing recognition to regional artists who are not often celebrated for their work. Both emerging and experienced artists have “the opportunity to showcase their work and have their moment to shine in the public eye,” Hill explained.

“For people who don’t always have a forum,” Clifford said. “This gives them one.”

Art & Soul will be on display from April 1 – 14  at Town & Country Fine Art Center, 300 E. Stroop Rd. in Kettering. An opening reception and awards ceremony will be held Friday, April 4, 2014 from 6:30-8 p.m. Both the reception and the exhibition are open to the public. For more information, please visit partnersohio.com or ti-inc.org.

Reach DCP writer Sara Mastbaum at SaraMastbaum@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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