By Anna Lapp, Marketing Intern
Sitting before an easel, Wallace Peck contemplates his subject. Scrutinizing the canvas, he begins a process of art and imagination. With a full-color background and thick-black lines, Wallace creates a portrait unlike any other, one that can be pinpointed as a uniquely his own. As he finishes his artistry, he sits back with a wide grin, illuminating the room with his warmth.
Wallace Peck is one of many artists at the Open Doors Art Studio, located in Grandview. The studio acts as a creative space and gallery, providing art services to individuals with developmental disabilities. This local space was formed in 2007 with the support of the Columbus Center for Human Services. The executive director, Dona England, had a profound fondness for Ralph Bell, a long-time resident of CCHS with cerebral palsy. Bell had a celebrated career as an artist and his influence helped create the studio.
The Open Door Art Studio creates incomparable opportunities for many of its artists. Wallace Peck is a perfect example. His creative ingenuity shines through his portraits, and as a result he has become a locally renowned artist. About the studio, Peck says, “I’ve been drawing my whole life. I like to make painted pictures so that people can look at my pictures and feel happy, feel good. I want to paint people… People I knows, peoples I trust. That’s why I come here.”
Peck’s words have an impact. For him, art is a way to make others happy, and, in turn, that makes him happy. Peck’s unique style focuses on portraits. His backgrounds are completely filled in, painted with colorful hues and strokes. He uses thick black lines to emphasize the subject’s body and face. His paintings are so singular that he caught the attention of Duff Lindsay of the Lindsay Gallery in the Short North. Duff notes enthusiastically, “It’s just so graphically arresting and colorful and joyful. It really grabbed me, and it grabs a lot of people… You can’t see a Wallace Peck painting and not instantly know that it’s a Wallace Peck painting.”
With Open Door’s guidance, Peck was able to take part in the 2012 Columbus Arts Festival. Through a blind jury process, Peck was accepted as an Emerging Artist. He has also since taken advantage of the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s Artist Supply Grants to further his work.
Besides Peck, various artists of the Open Door Studio are featured for their tremendous artwork. Marty Freireich is an artist who uses only his feet to craft vibrantly colorful paintings. His paint strokes are strewn across his pieces, using rich reds and bright blues to enliven the canvas. The varied, creative pieces from patrons of The Open Door Studio will be displayed in an exhibit at Tacocat Cooperative beginning January 31. Eye Candy: A Collection of Portraits features pieces of “people, loved ones, celebrities, and self-portraits.” The exhibition lasts through February 23 so be sure to check it out before it passes by.
The artists of Open Doors Art Studio thrive because of its programs and message—accessibility. Art’s creativity connects to all of us. Its power and semblance brings out the inner workings of the creative mind—both as viewers and artists. We consider the meaning behind a painting and its inspiration. But so much of it depends on accessibility. Across the Columbus area, there exist multiple organizations that foster art and its inclusivity with people of disabilities. From painting to theater to photography, access to art is a helping force in the happiness of many lives.
Besides the Open Door Art Studio, VSA Ohio bridges art and disability to build accessible, creative opportunities for people of all abilities. VSA Ohio’s executive director, Erin Hoppe, enthuses that “This art will challenge your notion of dis/ability. We hope it inspires your own creativity and acts of inquisition.” And VSA certainly follows through with this notion. The organization supports programs with photography, music, painting, drawing, dance and movement.
Several programs VSA offers promote awareness of the art created. In late September, VSA hosts the Reelabilities Film Festival which features “the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities, all through the easily accessible art form of film.” Performances have included stories from China, Germany, Israel, Mozambique, and the United States. By providing a forum to engage discussion on the films, VSA Ohio and the Reelabilities Film Festival celebrate the lives and work of these artists.
Set to open in March, The Accessible Expressions Ohio is an exhibition that tours the state. The exhibition displays visual art created by artists with disabilities of all ages. Likewise, their Adaptation, Integration and the Arts program connects art educators with young students of all abilities. Focused on student learning, the program allows children to thrive in a creative environment, encouraging success through creativity.
Justin Martin has presented at several VSA events as a poet and speaker. His powerful diction and fluidity of words have captivated audiences. Martin’s love for narrative began in 2nd grade when had major surgery and was unable to move. During this time, he dictated an entire book to a caregiver, sparking a passion for writing. At 10 years old, he read at the poetry corner of the Columbus Arts Festival (2007). Martin is now an honors student at Hilliard Darby High School and has received multiple awards for his writing. Martin, along with many noted VSA artists, has achieved success and aid from VSA’s advocacy and opportunities.
One studio has created a partnering that offers its patrons a living wage. Sunapple Studios on Johnstown Road is partnered through ARC Industries Inc—“a nonprofit organization aligned with the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities to provide employment and training opportunities for adults with development disabilities.” Even more incredible are the three sectors that Sunapple provides work through—art, cooking, and gardening. Sunapple’s mission is to provide people with artistic development and a living wage, affirming that they “believe we’re helping people with real skills and real talents make life a little better for us all!” Sunapple’s creative platform includes commercial kitchens, an art studio, and the progress of a sustainable garden. Their art program includes drawing, painting, and ceramics that become “one-of-a-kind garden ornaments, herb markers, fan pulls, key chains, painted tiles, and even a coloring book.” This welcoming set-up creatively fuses employment and art. It helps remove barriers for people of disabilities and opens the door of accessibility.
Within the Columbus community, Sunapple Kitchens has partnered with Bake Me Happy, a newly opened gluten-free bakery. The owners of Bake Me Happy, Wendy Miller Pugh and Letha Pugh, enthuse that they have “a staff of eager future chefs to assist in production.” This set-up allows for a positive union between Sunapple and local companies, paving success for its employees and business. At Sunapple’s art studio, the employees make sustainable products ready-to-sell. Their seasonal products include painted mugs and clay ornaments, which are sold at local venues. Several venues include the Dawes Arboretum and the Granville Art Affair and Wine Festival. Sunapple also holds a studio sale every first Wednesday of the month from 10 am to 7 pm.
In addition to visual arts programs for people with disabilities, the performing arts are engaging in interactive theater productions. The Columbus Children Theatre hosts a series of Sensory Friendly Performances for audiences on the autism spectrum and with developmental disabilities. Sensory Friendly Performances allow children liberty throughout the performance, creating a culture of comfort and safety. Characteristics of the performance include dimmed lighting, a lack of sudden loud sounds, and the ability to move throughout the performance. If a child feels uncomfortable, he may even move to the lobby where coloring activities are provided. The accessibility of these performances encourages children to enjoy theater performances and their surroundings. In order to prepare audiences for the event, the Columbus Children’s Theatre has created a “Social Story.” The Social Story is a colorful booklet with pictures of what occurs during the performance and the locations of the entire theater space. Current performances include Pinocchio, while future shows consist of Fancy Nancy The Musical and The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Columbus art studios and theaters provide support not only to their artists and patrons, but to our entire community. The pieces, performances, and artwork provided by disability arts programs enlighten and encourage community growth. Wallace Peck claims this importance simplistically and beautifully. “I feel happy when I draw.” And his happiness spreads from his canvas to his customer to the community. We are all affected by the positive forces at play. If we are able to create and access art, doors open—ideas flow.
Cover image: Work by Open Door Studio artist, Darrell Miller, Caged.
Anna Lapp serves as an intern for the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s Marketing, Communications & Events department. She is set to graduate this May from The Ohio State University with a degree in English and minors in professional writing and women’s, gender and sexuality studies. As a senior, Anna is pursuing an undergraduate research thesis on Victorian literature and the use of the pseudonym. She is an avid lover of the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, and 19th century British literature.
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