Newark, New Jersey: “Still Eye Rise” Project with Disabled Youth


Newark artist and educator James Wilson jokes around with one of the students

Over the summer of 2011, Joel Bergner and Newark artist James Wilson led an intensive four-week series of workshops with physically and mentally disabled youth at the JFK school through the local arts organization City Without Walls (cWOW). The teens learned artistic concepts, art history, discussed issues important to them and their community, and created their own personal works of art. They then participated in the design of a public mural, culminating in the creation of a series of abstract art panels. These panels were then installed on a public wall, where Joel and James painted the main images incorporating the students’ abstract expressions. The New Jersey State Council on the Arts awarded the project the 2012 Innovator’s Award. The project was innovative in that it included many techniques developed specifically for teens with physical and mental disabilities, many with limited motor skills. An amazing art therapist from the JFK worked with Joel and James, introducing them to a “helmet- paintbrush” that allowed participants to paint with their head if they could not control their hands. In the creation of the abstract art panels, the strengths of each student was utilized. Some painted in a wild and free manner, so they worked on the background. Others were more detail-oriented and created the foreground expressions. Most were in wheelchairs, so the facilitators came up with a way for them to do “wheelchair-painting.”  The kids and adults alike had a moving experience and were all sad when the time came to say good-bye!

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