When I’m out in the community and I tell people we run a College of the Arts for adults with special needs, a common response that I get is, “So you are training them for a vocation in the arts?” Certainly a valid question, and I find it an interesting challenge to convey the message that we are truly about learning for the sake of learning. Lifelong education. Exploring and furthering your skills and interests with other like-minded peers who have similar interests.
I have a sister with a disability, and it was truly interesting to watch enter into the world of adulthood. When I believe she was in that post-secondary time right after high school, she had a job coach for the summer, and she was so very happy cleaning the desks of the local high schools to get ready for the next year. Her coach was with her, and she seemed to be having a blast. I was so happy for her to have an engaged experience and to be helping in the community.
I soon learned that the job coach was cut due to budget cuts. I moved away to attend my own college, and I sensed the distress and despair of becoming an adult without the needed supports to continue to be a viable, happy, and productive citizen. It’s been highly distressing to observe as a sister.
Fast forward 20 years and myself and my business partner, Pamela Lindsay, have founded an Innovative College of the Arts for Students with Disabilities. It’s amazing; joyful; refreshing. I simply and truly love it. College of Adaptive Arts has 8 Schools of Instruction in the Arts, Health & Wellness. Adults simply sign up for the classes that they are interested in taking. Each class is one hour long. Learn, Create, Rinse, and Repeat.
I often revisit the word training in my mind. I’ve seen adults with disabilities trained to pick up trash, clean tables, shred papers. From my perspective, it seems that ‘typical folks’ on a whole can do these jobs better than a person with a disability. However, when you give a person with a disability a microphone and a stage, they have the ability to transform the audience’s experience in a way that I have rarely witnessed with ‘typical’ performers. People often have told me that they ‘feel more alive’ after watching a College of Adaptive Arts performing troupe.
I sincerely believe that we are better using all human resources when we unleash authentic abilities in the arts vs. training them to fulfill menial jobs. A typical person experiences an adult with a disability on stage singing their heart out, and their world that day has been transformed.
A ripple from experiencing the artistic contributions of a performer with a disability may lead to more far-reaching ramifications. A person goes home and hugs their family. They put down their technologies and authentically listen. They get a new sense of hope and inspiration. They have a renewed sense of awareness, perspective, gratitude, mindset. The sky is truly the limit.
I invite you to come and visit the College of Adaptive Arts on a Friday tour and feel the positive energy for yourself. It’s infectious; joyful; electrifying. It’s much easier to get it than having me politely explain that we are not about training; we are about empowering our student body to creatively transform perception. And they are so doing that each time they connect with the community – it is truly powerful.