Ms. Kerry Kriseman

An artful partnership that creates connections and accessibility

Posted by Ms. Kerry Kriseman, Sep 10, 2019 0 comments

Ms. Kerry Kriseman

Spider Man, Black Widow, and Captain America combine with skyscrapers, skylines, and life-sized pop art. Hands form clay and mouths elicit the spoken word. Creative Clay’s six-month Artlink Apprenticeship Program is yielding a diverse collection that will adorn the walls and fill the spaces of St. Petersburg’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Collaborators work in tandem to create art that celebrates each partner’s unique talents and touches. These collaborators weren’t colleagues back in March when they met for their first Artlink session, but today, they’re partners, friends, and advocates.

The Artlink Apprenticeship Program is one way that Creative Clay, a non-profit in St. Petersburg, Florida, creates accessibility for all through the arts. Artlink pairs a professional artist with a member artist from Creative Clay’s Community Arts Program, one of seven programs that serves individuals with neuro-differences.

Each week since Artlink II began in March, ten professional artists from the St. Petersburg community have met weekly with Creative Clay member artists, working in tandem to create a body of work for a September exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Large-scale cartoon figures, flowers, and paintings are some of the mediums represented. So is the spoken word. Musician, actor, and artist Michael J. is paired with local radio personality Rick Crandall, who is teaching him radio show production, effective voice projection techniques for on-air talent, and interviewing techniques.

Marcy Miller, Director of Human Relations, manages Artlink Corp. and the Artlink Apprenticeship Program. She believes that the program thrives because of the collaborative environment created between mentor and student. Most of the professional artists have never worked with someone who has an intellectual disability, which provides a natural opportunity to experience life from another’s point of view.

“Inevitably, they will tell me that working with their partners was more personally meaningful than they anticipated—even transformative—and they overwhelmingly recommend the program to other professional artists,” Miller said.

This unique pairing of professionals and students was birthed in 1999 to give student artists with a disability the opportunity to work one-on-one with professional artists in the community. Participants are chosen based on their medium of concentration, skill level, experience, and demonstrated enthusiasm for the project.

Artlink teams are free to shape their curriculum, personally curate a body of work, and create where inspiration leads them. The outdoors, en plein air, provides a natural setting that can open the mind to new ideas. A quiet studio on a Saturday, a sound room at a radio station, and dimly lit, cool museum exhibit halls are fertile ground for creativity.

Marquise R. and Calan Ree often meet in her lush backyard where nature, songbirds, and fresh air create a peaceful environment in which to shape and form clay creatures. Later, at another Artlink session, the team paints the glazed pieces. As a member of Creative Clay’s Community Arts Program, Marquise is already well-known in the art community for his large-scale abstract ethereal paintings. Clay is a new medium for Marquise, and Artlink provides individual instruction, guidance, and mentoring.

“Honestly, it’s all fun. A favorite was the collaboration we did on a ceramic mask,” Ree said. “It was a magical process, and we were both able to equally deliver our styles and come out with a very cohesive, strong piece that we both are happy with.”

Sydney R. and Meike Groh often visit the Museum of Fine Arts on St. Petersburg’s waterfront where Sydney often finds ideas for new projects. The ability to connect outside the classroom is a chance for the partners to solidify their working relationship.

Sydney attends Creative Clay’s Community Arts Program, but this is her first experience as an Artlink participant. Pen in hand, laptop open to images from famous architects, ear buds in and favorite tunes playing—that’s how Sydney usually creates. With Groh, however, Sydney is exploring filmmaking.

Her artwork usually hangs in Creative Clay’s Good Folk Gallery, but her work from Artlink will be interactive. “Getting to guide her toward making her own short film come to life has been wonderful,” Groh said. “I find it really awesome being able to collaborate and teach Sydney how animation works.”

Each Artlink session produces new art, ideas, and discoveries, but the mentoring extends beyond artmaking. Artist mentors also share important skills on the business of art: how to create and sustain successful careers as working artists, craft an artist statement, budget for art supplies, and network in the community. The partnership produces lessons for all, and the potential for learning extends beyond the art.

Tate F. and Mason Gehring are creating a body of work based on Marvel characters. “Recently, Tate and I have been focusing more on creating portraits of his favorite Marvel characters recreated in the style of famous artist portraits,” said Gehring. This evidence of shared inspiration and ideas between mentor and student shows the impact of investing in the education of the artist.

“Although Artlink was designed as a program to benefit artists with disabilities, I am always impressed by how much the professional artists get out of it,” said Miller.

Kinsey Rodriguez, who works with Creative Clay member artist Carla L., agrees. “We have really developed a fun relationship around our collaboration as artists. We have figured out how to work together and have both our visions present in our art.”

Each Artlink team also will produce retail items, such as limited-edition posters, prints, greeting cards, and a journal that documents their Artlink experience.

Artlink is funded through a grant from National Endowment for the Arts and is one of Creative Clay’s seven programs that create arts accessibility for individuals with neuro-differences, and provide opportunities that artists with disabilities might not have otherwise. Creative Clay’s mission is to help people with disabilities achieve full and inclusive lives through access to the arts by providing expressive, educational, and vocational experiences. Creating arts access for all achieves key goals: empowerment, education, and creation of social equity. Creative Clay’s artists are stakeholders and contributors to the landscape of the community, and our programs reach diverse populations, including children as young as six, teenagers, veterans, and those in shelters.

Follow Creative Clay on Facebook; on Instagram at @creativeclaystpete and on Twitter at @creativeclay.

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