By Katie Moritz
Upstairs, in the third-floor gallery of Studio Place Arts in Barre, colors, shapes, and words erupt onto the walls with a force that is immediate and moving.
The exhibit, titled “Shockwave,” features art by Washington County Mental Health Services (WCMHS) consumers, participants in their Community Development Services. It is the first exhibit for WCMHS’s arts and literary magazine by the same name and runs until March 17.
It’s a Thursday afternoon, and three members of WCMHS, Mary Kay Kasper, the supervisor for the Learning Network, which sponsors Shockwave, Aron Martineau, the Editor and person responsible for putting the exhibit together, and Joe Mahr, Learning Network Team Leader, position themselves around the mouth of the staircase that leads up to the exhibit. The art, created by folks with a wide spectrum of intellectual disabilities, is stunning. Joe leans against the railing and as he looks at the pieces slowly, he grins as if letting you in on a secret: “It’s interesting to see how the artists sit at a blank canvas. No direction. Free range. It’s a choose your own adventure.”
“Shockwave Magazine” was originally started by Mary Blake, an art instructor with a fine arts background. Now Martineau, an artist and graphic designer, has taken on the art classes and puts the publication together. There is a core group of approximately ten artists who participate in Aron’s classes every day. Originally, the publication was made up only of class participants. Now it is also open to those who are not in-house, meaning they do not attend a class. Really, it’s about community integration. And for folks living with intellectual disability, this is important.
Kasper explains that they “really wanted to open “Shockwave” up to all individuals. That way everyone gets a chance to be a part of this experience. And Aron has done a great job of structuring it in that way.”
“Shockwave Magazine” as well as the exhibit also features poetry and written word. Kasper explains like the paintings, “poetry is a reflection of who they are and how they communicate what’s important to them in the world.” The process of creation has not only had an impact on participants, who find connection and engagement with others and themselves, it has affected Kasper, Martineau, and Mahr.
By working with these individuals and watching their journeys as artists, all three have found lessons applicable to their own lives. It has made them rethink their mediums and their processes. “This is the beauty of this work,” Kasper explains, “they teach us about life… They teaches me I don’t have to be perfect. That I can tell my story.”
Whatever the medium, art is forgiving. There is room for expression and leeway without feeling as if you’re failing. And almost without saying so explicitly, the art in this exhibit is rich with wisdom. For example, one of the original inspiration for the magazine was a participant named Clinton, who has a fascinating creative habit: he makes intricate grid-work pieces that he then fills with color.
But when he’s done?
He tears it all up.
When Martineau asked why he did this, he responded: “I don’t need it anymore.”