Stroke of Creativity
Easter Seals’ A.R.T. program helps bring works of art to life
By Dwain Hebda
Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. But what do you do when you’re the only one who can see it and have little to no means of bringing it from your mind to the canvas?
That’s the dilemma traditionally faced by artists who have little or no use of their hands. And it’s precisely the reason Easter Seals’ Artistic Realization Technologies (A.R.T) exists. The Little Rock program allows individuals to bring their artistic vision to life despite limited use of their hands.
The artist works in tandem with one or more trained volunteers called trackers. The trackers take direction from the artist and become his or
her hands in the process. Artists provide direction as to the location on the canvas where and how a brush stroke should be placed and the details for that brush stroke.
“Basically, a tracker follows the directives of the Easter Seals artist,” says Tina Leoncavallo, Easter Seals Arkansas marketing and public relations coordinator. “Each Easter Seals artist requests the canvas size and will direct the tracker to let them know how they want it painted.
“They communicate very specifically; the artist will tell the tracker where on the canvas to place the brush stroke and at what angle and the length of it. And the tracker just follows the directive and does not give any suggestion on how to paint.”
Artists have complete control over the work, short of applying the paint. They select colors and direct trackers in blending colors to gain the shade variations they want. There’s even a variety of application options, many of them using household kitchen gadgets such as a turkey baster or spatulas, to create interesting lines and texture in the abstract works.
While all of this is impressive on its own, even more astounding is the fact that in addition to limited use of their hands, some artists also have difficulty communicating verbally. Yet, through adaptation and in some cases assistive technologies, this challenge can also be overcome.
“Some of the artists blink to say yes or no, and some of them wear a laser pointer on their heads so they can direct the tracker on where to place the brush strokes,” Leoncavallo says.
A.R.T. isn’t a random therapy so much as it is a means for people to express themselves, sometimes employing a professional talent. The system was developed outside Arkansas by a professional artist who became disabled later in life and needed help carrying out his artwork.
Some of the individuals who take part in the Arkansas program have also received formal art training, others simply have a passion for the activity. Each derives unique, individualized benefits from the process of expressing creativity.
“One of our newest artists who just came to the program recently did art before his accident,” Leoncavallo says. “He receives therapy at home and he comes here and it helps him get out of the home and be with other people and learn how to communicate with other people.
“A lot of our Easter Seals artists already receive some sort of service from Easter Seals, but not necessarily. We have a young girl who goes to Maumelle Middle School who used to receive services from us and even though she no longer receives (those services), she has a passion for painting and so she comes here for that.”
Keeping an open door has meant finding more artists, but also requires additional trackers, of which there are currently only a handful. Leoncavallo says volunteers are a critical part of the program, especially those who can assist during painting, typically one-hour sessions, during after-school hours.
“Especially after 4 p.m., it’s kind of hard to find someone to volunteer,” Leoncavallo said. “Some of the artists are still in school and so the only time they can come is after 4 p.m.”
Some of the finished artwork is used to help raise money for the organization through Easter Seals Arkansas’ various fundraising events such as November’s Art and Soul and February’s The Fashion Event. This year’s Art and Soul raised a total of more than $60,000 while last year’s Fashion Event, which combines a runway fashion show with selected art pieces, topped $116,000. Both events also showcase the artists themselves while spotlighting the A.R.T. program.