It was just expected years ago that I go to art college. I painted and drew on anything that didn’t move, so when I began my college career at the Academy of Art University is San Francisco, I dreamed my painting future would be like that of Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, or Mark Rothko without their unexpected endings. Not so.
During my last semester of college, I visited Creativity Explored in SF. The variety of artwork created by adult artists with developmental and hidden disabilities inside this large and colorful studio was breathtaking! These accomplished artists’ paintings, drawings and sculptures were so pure and moving. I spent some time drawing with a woman who was nonverbal, but she spoke loudly. Her colorful drawings, expressive line-work, and beaming smile said everything she could not. I left school that day, changed in my ideas about who else can create art, but more importantly, how much these artists touched my heart.
Jump forward 9 years and through divine intervention and an amazing friend, I met two passionate and courageous women who were starting a college in San Jose for adults with differing abilities. They needed an art instructor and an art department and wanted to know if I was interested. To say I was excited couldn’t nearly describe how I felt. I experienced that heartwarming sensation I felt all those years ago and I knew that this was my tribe.
Now as we celebrate our 10th Anniversary as a college for adult individuals with differing abilities, I can’t help but reflect over CAA’s monumental growth. We’ve nurtured countless classes in the arts, health and wellness, communications and more in many locations. Each move, bringing new experiences to a population of individuals who might not ever have had the opportunity to be creative and express themselves in art forms such as dance, music, or art. For four years, our fearless professors set up classes out of the trunks of their cars, packed them up to travel to and from generous businesses with a little bit of space and a shared belief in our vision for the college which allowed us to grow.
Established colleges around the country for the most part have offered typical adults opportunities in the arts for decades, becoming artists (like myself), actors, writers and entertainers who influence our culture, enrich our lives and fill up social media. But those colleges must have begun from humble beginnings… much like College of Adaptive Arts. Right?
When I see CAA students eyes light up at a new song they will learn or a non-verbal student try their hardest to record a sound for a clay animation voice over, I can’t help but feel that these novel experiences are reaching the hearts and minds of our students just like today’s typical college learners.
Thank you to the families for recognizing that our adults too have dreams of becoming future creatives that make up and contribute to society. To think that only decades ago, people with developmental differences, physical challenges and the like were not only thought as burdens, but also hidden away from society is so heartbreaking. CAA students have so much to offer and share with the world in ways that might look different from typical college students and adults, but still just as valuable and unique.
Each week, I get the privilege to bask in CAA students unconfined joy, witness unconditional friendships, and unbridled eagerness to try and try again as all lessons we can learn from. And most importantly, we all need each other to do this.
All of our college communities deserve seasons to be learners, teachers, mentors and friends.
Recently, I had the unexpected and exciting chance to go back to Creativity Explored and talk about art and autism. I could never have done this if I hadn’t experienced all of these roles just because of one chance opportunity over 16 years ago in a college class which completely changed my life’s purpose, career, and my heart.
Director, School of Art
College of Adaptive Arts