Award Winning Video Documentary

"This Drawing Looks Intelligent"
Award winning Documentary by Marcel Baaijens about art and people with intellectual disabilities, art as vocation, communication and cultural expression. 30 min. 1999

Click HERE to view video.

This Drawing Looks Intelligent (paper)

Table of contents

1 Introduction
2 Developmental disabilities
3 The environment of people with developmental impairments
4 Benefits of art-making for people with developmental impairments
4.1 Art-making as vocational option
4.2 Art as an alternative form of communication
4.3 Art as cultural expression
4.4 Art-making as therapy
4.5 Recognition and respect for the artist through their art
4.6 The role of art in the process of integration
5 Conclusion
6 References

1 Introduction

During a visit in 1997 to my native town of Amersfoort in The Netherlands, I discovered Hof 12, an art gallery and studio in the center of the old city. I was impressed with the beauty and quality of the art exhibited in the gallery. To my surprise I learned that the art as created by artists with developmental disabilities. I had previously worked as a community dance worker with people with a developmental disability, which I enjoyed very much, but until that visit to Hof 12 I had never been exposed to art created by this population. This visit was a wonderful experience. My immediate connection with the art, the artists and the staff inspired me to seek similar work in Chicago and determined the topic of this paper. Upon my return to Chicago I discovered that there existed no similar projects in the city of Chicago. During an internship at The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities of Chicago, I learned about the oppressive and segregated existence of adults with developmental disabilities in Chicago. Proposals to introduce an art program for adults with developmental disabilities similar to the one I visited in The Netherlands were met with resistance. In February of 1998 a proposal that I developed to initiate a studio art program at an existing agency which provides services for adults with developmental disabilities as a volunteer was accepted. I chronicled my experience with this program in the video “This Drawing Looks Intelligent”.

Through the production of the documentary video “This Drawing Looks Intelligent”, I attempted to expose the segregated and oppressive environment and conditions society has created for adults with developmental disabilities, and how the introduction of a studio art program has improved such conditions.

This paper accompanies the video and further investigates the potential benefits of art-making for people with developmental disabilities through research of related literature, documentaries and films about people with developmental disabilities, fieldwork undertaken for the production of the video, and personal observations made while working as an art facilitator for people with developmental disabilities.

The fieldwork undertaken for the production of the video consisted of interviews with adults with developmental disabilities, and with staff and experts working with people with developmental disabilities in the U.S.A. and The Netherlands. In addition, video footage of a work center was collected, as well as studio environments, a talent show on TV, art exhibitions by artists with developmental disabilities, and art created by artists with developmental disabilities. Music composed and performed by a composer with developmental disabilities was used for the soundtrack. The analogue video footage and soundtracks have been digitally edited.

The studio art program for adults with developmental disabilities which I initiated has been successful in providing the participants with the anticipated benefits of art-making, which will be discussed in this paper.

2 Developmental Disability

The videotape, “This Drawing Looks Intelligent”, opens with the voice of an instructor reading to a group of adults from a children's story book. It is a rather simple story, not intended for an adult audience, yet when the instructor asks the group a simple question related to the story, many are unable to respond appropriately. It is evident that the adults are people with a significant sub-average intellectual functioning, which is one of the criteria defining a developmental disability.

A 'developmental disability' is a disability caused by mental retardation which affects the age appropriate development of a person. 'Mental retardation' is a medical term for a type of mental disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-VI) (American Psychiatric Association, 1995, p. 39) defines mental retardation as:
...[a] significant sub-average general intellectual functioning (Criterion A) that is accompanied by significant limitations in adaptive functioning in at least two of the following skill areas: communication, self- care, home living, social/interpersonal skills, work, leisure, health and safety (Criterion B). The onset must occur before age 18 years (Criterion C).

The DSM-VI defines a significant sub-average general intellectual functioning for adults as an IQ (intelligent quotient) of approximately 70 or below. Between one and two percent of the population is affected by mental retardation according to the parameters defined by the DMS-VI.

The word ‘disability’, is defined as a disabled condition, or that which disables
(Webster, 1976, p. 517). Physiological conditions as varied as mental retardation, and paralyses of the legs, can, by definition, disable a person's functioning, but environmental conditions, such as lack of access, can also disable a person's functioning. The word ‘disability’ does not differentiate between a disabling condition which is located within or outside the physical body.

The term ‘impairment’ is used to define a disability that is located within the body. Impairment is defined as meaning damage, injury, or deterioration (Webster, 1976, p. 910). An impairment of the body can be defined as having a damaged, injured, deteriorated limb, organism or mechanism of the body, such as legs damaged by paralysis or a brain affected by mental retardation. For clarity I will refer to the term 'impairment' when a disabling condition is located within the physical body and the term ‘disability’ when a disabling condition is located outside the physical body.

How disabling an impairment will be often depends on the person’s environment. An impairment of the body may, but does not have to be disabling, as the following examples illustrate. If a person is dependent on a wheel-chair because of a physical impairment, such as paralysis of the legs, entering a building which is only accessible via stairs would be impossible. If the same building is equipped with a ramp or lift for access, then a person using a wheelchair has equitable access to the building. If a person with mental retardation is significantly limited in adaptive functioning in the skill areas of self-care, home living, health and work, but not limited by the impairment in their ability to make art, and if that person is denied access to art-making, then it is the lack of access that is disabling that person in their functioning as a creative person, and not the condition of mental retardation. If, in these examples, appropriate access and support are made available to the persons with impairments, then they can function without restrictions.

From the point of view of a person with an impairment it can be argued that disabilities are almost always located outside the physical body. Limiting policies, laws, regulations, physical obstacles, attitudes, prejudices, and labels created by non-impaired people disable people with impairments. Finkelstein views a disability as a social construction based on the lack of access. He defines disability as:
...the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organization which takes no or little account of people who have physical or developmental impairments, and thus excludes them from the mainstream of social activities. (Hevey, 1992, p. 14).

It is important to note that it is possible for people with impairments to adjust to the limitations imposed by the impairment to such an extend that he or she experiences the situation as normal. This possibility is often not taken into consideration by those people without impairments. The lack of knowledge about an impairment and the lack of willingness to provide possibilities, opportunities, and access for people with impairments are the most disabling factors for people with impairments.

3 The environment of people with developmental impairments

The video “This Drawing Looks Intelligent” examines whether adults with developmental impairments are disabled by their environment. The opening scene of the video is intercut with close-ups of Donald Hampton, who addresses the camera directly. Donald is a client at Austin Special, which is a work center for about 100 adults with developmental disabilities in Chicago. Austin Special is a non-for-profit organization, which receives government funding to provide services for adults with developmental disabilities. Donald wonders why he is not allowed to make more art. Donald: “...I don't know why she won't let me do more art. I get a lot more out of art if I do more art...” (Baaijens, 1998).

Video-maker Barbara Gregornik, simultaneously signs and tells the viewer about her experience of how some people from the non-impaired population interact with her as an impaired person. Barbara: “I have experience with a lot of people without developmental challenges who have a bad habit of shut[ting] the door on me, every time I want something, and I want to try something new... people have a bad habit to forget to listen, and [they] ignore me ...and that's what makes me angry and frustrated.” (Baaijens, 1998). Donald’s statement and Barbara's testimony are indications that their environments are disabling them from pursuing self-affirming interests, and expanding their knowledge and skills, which causes feelings of frustration and anger, and unreasonable emotional distress.
Unfortunately many people such as Donald and Barbara who live with developmental impairments find that they are not taken seriously when they express their wishes. Others, with the authority to make decisions on their behalf, such as legislators, professionals working in the field, and legal guardians, do so often without taking the wishes, or potential of the individual into account. Making decisions for a person which fail to provide access to opportunities that will enable that person to reach their full potential is a misuse of power, and exemplifies a situation in which the social environment of that person becomes disabling. Disabling or hindering a person in their pursuit of self-realization and self-affirmation constitutes an act of oppression according to Freire, who defines oppression as ‘any situation in which “A” objectively exploits “B”, or hinders his or her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person’ (Freire, 1997, p. 37). “A” can be substituted by ‘group’ and ‘person’, but also by “the environment or conditions created by ‘A’ “.

One example of how the environment hinders people with developmental impairments in their pursuit of self-fulfillment is that they are often cared for by agencies and institutions and placed in groups. Agencies, such as Austin Special, suffer from a high turnover and chronic shortage of staff caused by lack of funding which, among other things, is reflected in the low pay for the employees. In turn, the staff has often little experience or no specific training in working with people with mental retardation because there is little professional training available in the United States. Under such circumstances, there is not enough support for the clients to provide them with individual care to enable them to develop and reach their full potential as adults. The danger of being placed in a group is that the group, identified and labeled as “People with Developmental Disabilities”, can easily be regarded and treated as an object itself, losing sight of the individuals which comprise it. The group can become an object of politics, policies, practices, institutions, agencies and charities, with little or no consideration given to the specifications and differences among the individual group members in terms of level of mental retardation, areas affected by the mental retardation, and their individual needs and interests. Failure to attain an age-appropriate developmental level is often attributed to the impairment of the individual. This is seldom seen as the result of the limiting, disabling, and oppressive nature of the environment or conditions which society has created for people with mental retardation.

4 Potential benefits of art-making for people with developmental impairments

Providing opportunities for adults with developmental impairments to engage in art-making can bring many benefits for this population with far-reaching consequences. Art-making can provide vocational options, alternative forms of communication, and opportunities for cultural expression. Art-making can also produce many therapeutic benefits, provide the artists with the respect they deserve, and play a key role in the process of integrating the developmentally impaired and non-impaired communities.

4.1 Art-making as a vocational option

Many adults with developmental impairments, who are unable to find employment, are left with few choices: they can stay either at home or attend a sheltered work center, as provided by agencies such as Austin Special. The range of work provided by such centers consist mainly of manual piece work. In February of 1998, I introduced a studio art program at Austin Special. The objectives of the studio art program were to provide an opportunity for the clients to engage in art-making, and to exhibit and sell their art. This was the first time in the history of Austin Special that the clients were provided with alternative work opportunities and appropriate art-making activities. The art program runs parallel to the center's work program, and operates one and a half days per week. An additional half day is reserved for administration, marketing, framing, and other related duties. On average between eight and twelve clients attend the studio program each half day. About thirty clients have so far participated in the program on a rotation basis.

Austin Special's production supervisor, Kathy Kaiser, provides a closer look at the earning potential of the work, and at the work-related training offered in sheltered work centers. “Basically this is a factory...”, she says. “...Some packaging jobs they can maybe make ten to fifteen cents per day, others, depending on the quantities they produce and the number of steps involved, they make up to one or two dollars a day. Few of them make anymore than 2 dollars a day...” (Baaijens, 1998). By any standard, that is not much money for a day's work. From an economic point of view this work is not really worth the effort, but there are other benefits such as additional services provided by the agency, the company of peers, and the fact that the clients have something to do.

Kathleen McCune is a client at Austin Special and is also one of the participants in the art program. One day during her participation in the art program, she created a set of art cards which were later sold on her behalf for $ 15.00 of which 50% was paid to the artists. When Kathleen is asked how much money she makes working at the center, she has difficulty remembering the amount of her bi-weekly paycheck. After hesitating for a while, she answers: “Four dollars and thirty four…”. Kathleen is asked in the interview if she has made any money selling art? “Seven dollars”, was her immediate and confident reply. Interviewer: “Do you think you can more money making art? “ She replied confidently: “Yes.” interviewer: “Would you like to do that? “ Kathleen: “Yes “ (Baaijens, 1998).

As Kathleen speaks, the video shows her engaged in manual piece work, filling bags. Witnessing this, one can understand why she earns such low wages. Her capacity to earn money with making art is far greater than her capacity to generate money through packaging work. This comparison only takes the direct financial gain in account. Most times Kathleen prefers making art over manual piece work. During a six month period Kathleen has generated a gross income of $ 96.00 through the sales of her art. That is just over $ 1.00 per hour, compared to $ 0.11 per hour while doing piece work. The artists participating in the art program at Austin Special have generated a combined gross income of $3000.00 during a period of 12 months, part-time studio participation. An additional $4000.00 is expected from the sale of copyrights of images. The art program started with a budget of only $ 60.00.

The video shows a client in the pre-vocational room at Austin Special engaged in ‘practice work’, consisting of sorting plastic chips by color. As soon as he accomplishes the task, the sorted chips will be mixed again, and the client will start the same task all over again. It is not clear if the client understands if this task is actually unpaid work, and will never lead to real work unless he develops additional skills. The client in question does this activity week after week, even though he has demonstrated that he is capable of performing the task. Without being presented with new challenges it is unlikely that this particular client will be able to engage in real work activities. The validity of repetitive tasks is questioned by Lowenfeld and Britain (1964) when they remark that: What is most disturbing is that the skill of repeating bits of information [or repeating certain tasks], may have very little relationship to the 'contributing and well-adjusted member of society’ we thought we were producing (p. 3).

Elias Katz, founder and director of the National Institute on Art and Disabilities in Richmond, California says: “In our field of mental retardation and developmental disabilities, what has happened, at least from what I see that has happened, is that it has been co-opted by people interested in the idea of work and that nothing else matters in the life of these people than work. If they don't work then nothing, if they do work that is something, and what is the work. The work is obviously in many cases made up work, or busy work or useless work, or inadequate work, or under-utilizing a persons ability work “ (Baaijens, 1998).

Other clients at Austin Special, such as Venita Thompson, are aware that at times they are provided with unpaid “practice” work when there is no real work available. “Simulated work too much. Real work, but not fake work “ (Baaijens, 1998), replied Venita when she was asked what she most disliked about the work center. The usefulness and the legitimacy of prescribing people only one option for a vocation, function or role, particularly if it is one for which they have no, or little talent or intellect, while squandering talents and abilities in other areas is dubious.

A person with an impairment should not have to pretend to be unimpaired. This requires acceptance and respect for the limitations imposed by impairments of that person. To pretend that a person is capable of performing a vocation, function or role, for which they have no talent is deceptive and is a waste of time and resources, which could instead be spent on discovering how that person could make a valuable contribution to society. Such a contribution may not necessary be an economical contribution in the form of a paid job prescribed by society, but could be a contribution in an area in which that developmentally impaired person is able to excel. One such area may be art-making. Timmermans (1994) states that:
The underdeveloped intellectual abilities seem to play no role, or, do not seem to inhibit people with mental retardation in reaching exceptional achievements in the creative process (p.11).

Clients at Austin Special who are participating in the art program have demonstrated that they are capable of creating exceptional art, which has been admired and bought by many people including well-known non-disabled artists. Art-making has provided them with additional income, which in some cases exceeded the income generated from the regular work provided in the work center. Art-making can thus be an economically worthwhile vocational option for certain people with developmental impairments

4.2 Art as an alternative form of communication

For people whose ability to use written and spoken language is often affected by their developmental impairment, art can function as an important alternative form of communication and expression. Not all activities, which are labeled ‘art’ or ‘creative’, facilitate self-expression and communication. Some of the activities assumed to facilitate creativity, actually foster the opposite: conformity. Those providing the instruction are often unaware of the consequences of such activities

Austin Special provides art-making and ‘creative activities’ for the clients as part
of their regular work center program. These existing activities are facilitated by instructors, who are not trained to teach or facilitate art-making. A typical example of such an art activity is depicted in the video, when we see certain clients being presented with coloring book pages. Every client is presented with a limited choice of images to color-in. Most clients made their own marks over the printed image.

Art activities are often used to fill in time when no real work is available for the clients. “It's an activity just before gym, to keep their minds occupied and not just sitting there...” according to Austin Special instructor Helen White (Baaijens, 1998). It is not considered a worthwhile independent activity that may be of benefit to the clients. Asking clients to 'stay within the lines' created by others for coloring-in, is asking them to abandon their own creativity and conform to a set of prescribed parameters. Even when the instructors see that the clients are capable of engaging in more complex, highly individual, and expressive art-making, often producing astonishing results, they continue to provide them with the same coloring-in exercises, despite their evident abilities. It communicates to the clients that, according to those without developmental impairments, the clients' creative expressions have little or no value.

By providing the standard coloring-in activity, to all clients, regardless of their stage of artistic, motor skills, and intellectual development, the individual needs and abilities of the clients are being ignored. The activity may satisfy the need of the instructor, the institution, or society to keep the clients “busy”, but in doing so the clients’ needs are subsumed, opportunities to teach new skills or facilitate
growth are missed, and another situation of oppression created. Art experiences reduced to prescribed activities such as this coloring-in, deprive clients of the opportunity for communication through self-expression.

Little City Foundation in Palatine, Illinois, is a large campus where a variety of services are provided for people with developmental impairments, including a work center similar to the one at Austin Special. The Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center at Little City Foundation was founded in 1994 and receives funding to operate with full- and part-time staff such as an art director, studio manager, artists-in-residence, and administrators. Pete Liebenow, the studio arts manager of the Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, makes an observation about the difference between the work center and the art studio environment.

Pete Liebenow says: “Many individuals who are labeled ‘problems’ in the workshop environment, some individuals who had basically been given up on, they are given limited tasks and then basically just forget about them, they come here and they thrive, because they have been given that freedom [of choice]. We try to create an environment where they can go out, and do and seek out things, and ask questions, and God forbid question authority. We are trying to break down the client-staff relationship and when that relationship gets broken down it does become a relationship of peers “ (Baaijens, 1998). This attitude reflects respect for the clients and their individual needs.

How such an empowering attitude affects the clients and their accomplishments, can be seen in the video, which depicts the creation of a large sculpture by Jill Weiss, a client at Little City Foundation. The sculpture was created after a period during which Jill created many small sculptures on her own. The creation of the small
sculptures was no longer a challenge for Jill, and she needed to be challenged to expand her use of the materials, and the scale of her project. The facilitator provided the challenge by showing alternative options for creating a sculpture, and by asking Jill if she had considered other design options. The overall process of the creation was collaborative in nature. She was assisted with some technical aspects of the construction, but the creative process was hers alone. It is evident that Jill loved the creation of the sculpture as she was involved in every design decision that had to be made.

“The artist-teacher's role essentially is to facilitate the process of creating and not to interfere with the process of creating, not to impose anything of their own...” (Elias Katz in Baaijens, 1998). The consequences of disrespect for, and interference with, the creative process can be disastrous. It may rob the artist of their creative process, they may lose confidence in their ability to create, and may stagnate at their current artistic developmental level. Most likely they will prefer to stay with ‘safe’ activities (Brownlee, 1991, p. 23). They may keep repeating themselves unless they are appropriately challenged to expand. The worst consequence of all will be that the artists are robbed of the opportunity to express themselves. The piece-work currently provided through most work centers does not allow for any self-expression in the way appropriate art-making activities can. For people whose ability to use spoken and written language is impaired by mental retardation, art can serve as an alternative, and perhaps the most effective form of communication.

4.3 Art as cultural expression

Appropriate art-making activities provide people with developmental impairments with opportunities for self-expression, which may be viewed as cultural expressions. This view is gaining international recognition as videotaped examples of initiatives in the Netherlands demonstrate.

The first art studio for people with developmental impairments in The Netherlands was founded in 1975 (Timmermans, 1994, p.17). Since then, many more art studio's have been set-up, often combined with art galleries, such as in the case of Hof 12 featured in the video. Hof 12 was founded five years ago and located in the historical and commercial center of the city of Amersfoort Hof 12’s set-up is entirely different from that of the sheltered work centers, such as Austin Special. It provides excellent visibility for the art and the artists, and makes the population part of the cultural, social and economical life of the city. National television programs such as ‘Henny's House Party’, also featured in the video, illustrate that the talents of people with developmental impairments are not just limited to the area of studio arts, but may include other art forms such as music, dance, performance, poetry and so on.
Although the art of mentally retarded people is often limited in representational ability and technical sophistication, their work can be unexpectedly fresh and expressive (Henly, 1987). Regular national exhibitions, festivals, and a museum in the city of Zwolle in The Netherlands, are dedicated to the characteristic, and unique artistic achievements of this population. Their cultural expressions are respected, valued and celebrated at a national level.

The videotaped examples from The Netherlands illustrate that the lack of an age appropriate developmental level does not automatically mean that people with developmental impairments lack the ability to create art, and that, as a population, they are unique and contribute to a diverse and rich society. Greg McDonald, artist-in Residence at Little City Foundation, states the following: “Artists with developmental disabilities seem to produce art that I find unique and interesting. And I think it's specific to the population. I think that the place where they generate their ideas from, the place that they come from is different than children, adults, or people without disabilities. I think their thought patterns, the way that they perceive the world, and just exist on a day to day basis is different, and so the art they produce reflects those differences “ (Baaijens, 1998).

Historically well-known non-developmentally impaired artist such as Jean Du Buffet, have often looked to artists with developmental impairments for inspiration. Artists like Du Buffet, and many people in countries such as The Netherlands recognize that all artists are different, that artists with developmental impairments are different, and that such difference is cause for celebration.

4.4 Art-making and therapy

Art-making can have therapeutic benefits without the need for it to become art therapy per se. Making art can be therapeutic, and art therapy uses art-making as a tool in the therapeutic process, but these are two different things. The difference lies in the focus and the intention of the activity. In art therapy the art process and the art product are used as a tool to facilitate the process of healing. Making art is not the primary goal of the activity. The objectives of the art programs that I have investigated are to facilitate art-making and self-expression, and not to facilitate healing directly. However such art programs may have many therapeutic benefits for the participants, such as healing from the effects of oppressive situations created by society.

Elias Katz, who is also a clinical psychologist, says about his experience in the process of facilitating art-making for people with developmental impairments: “It was obvious to me that we weren't doing art therapy. We were doing something very different. Not that it wasn't therapeutic, because we see all the evidence of better adjustments and better educational skills and all the rest. We see all of that happen but we don't aim to do that as the primary thing“ (Baaijens, 1998).

Claims that people with developmental disabilities need therapy are based on the values and ethics of a dominant group, which views difference as a type of deficit, and a deviance from the norm. The presence of a developmental disability does not necessarily lead to maladaption. If a person with a disability is well adjusted and functioning normally within the limitations of their impairment, and, equally important, if the person in question is experiencing the situation as normal, then therapeutic interventions would be quite inappropriate. What is needed in such a situation is the acceptance of that person by the dominant group. Failing to do so is the imposition of an ideological domination that severely limits the possibility for a critical multicultural democracy (Freire & Macedo, 1995, p. 205). Prescribing therapy when a person is not in need of therapy is another form of oppression.

So-called ‘problem behavior’ by the clients, as referred to in the video by Pete Liebenow, is used as a reason to segregate people with developmental impairments from the rest of society. In my experience, when clients have been upset and acted out their feelings of anger and frustration in the art studio environment, the behavior has always been carried over from the work center environment or the group-home environment. The upset has been caused by the environment, specially created by society for the client. If a non-impaired person was upset and reacted with the same behavior, it would be considered that this person was ‘just having a bad day’.

In institutional settings with oppressive conditions it is not uncommon for staff to interpret resistance to the rules, regulations, and staff as maladaption, and pathological or ‘problem behavior’, which is often responded to with punishment and/or therapeutic interventions. Critical pedagogy, on the other hand, sees resistance as a legitimate response to domination, used to help individuals or groups deal with oppression (Freire & Macedo, 1995, p220). The last thing people with developmental disabilities need in such a situation is more clinical
tests, assessments and therapy.

The fact that art-making is a very appropriate and worthwhile activity for people with developmental disabilities does not mean that it should be presented to them in the context of therapy. Henley (1987) supports this conviction by stating: Each individual should be considered to be adapting and fully adjusted until the presence of behavioral symptoms convinces us otherwise. ...Until symptomatic behavior is unequivocally demonstrated, the handicapped child [or adult] should be able to create art in a non-clinical atmosphere... (p. 59).

The fact that people with developmental impairments are not adapting to the work center environment, but are adapting and fully adjusting to the art studio environment, can be seen as an indication that there may be a problem with the environment of the work center, rather than the person with a developmental impairment. To submit that person to therapy because he or she does not adapt to the work center environment would be a violation of that person’s rights.

4.5 Recognition and respect for the artists through their art

Art by people with developmental impairments would never become available and accessible to non-impaired people if others who first noticed the art had not recognized its importance and value, and taken the initiative to give it the respect it deserves. Taking such art seriously demands not only respect for the art product, but also respect for artist and the creative process.

Respect for the creative process can be translated into supportive actions such as appropriate facilitation, but it cannot stop there. Respect for the art product in the form of supportive actions such as: documentation, presentation, exposure, and opportunities to sell art through exhibitions are equally important. It provides the necessary encouraging validation for the art and the artist: “...this is your body of work that you've been making. This is a significant part of your life and
time and production “
(Baaijens, 1998), says Christine Tarkowski, Artist-in-Residence at Little City Foundation. John Ploof, also an Artist-in-Residence at Little City Foundation, adds: “To exhibit the work is a crucial factor in having it to be able to communicate...” Ploof continues by stating that: “...The art work has formed a new arena not only between artists and the art world, but also between the artists and society. There is an importance, and in fact an urgency to the intersection that forms of art and democracy, where there is room for multiple points of view that become clear and articulated and become communication in ways that can only happen, or at least happen very well through the process of making art “ (Baaijens, 1998). Respect for the art product translates into respect for the voice of artists with developmental impairments, and respect for their place in society.

The final section of the video documents the first art exhibition ever held at Austin Special. The lunchroom of the work center was transformed into an exhibition space for the occasion. Artist Peter Kuczwara, a client at Austin Special, who looked depressed and did not interact in the work center environment earlier in the video tape, can be seen smiling and engaged with his art, and the people interested in his art at the exhibition. This change in behavior is a testimony to the transformative effect that respect for a person’s art can have. For Peter, the exhibition of his work was the first time his family, staff, and peers, were able to see a side of him that he has never been able to show before. Peter's art is selling well, and is now enhancing many people’s lives.

4.6 The role of art in the process of integration

Segregation of developmentally impaired people has left the non-developmentally impaired community without knowledge and experience of how to interact with people with developmental impairments. It also has contributed to the believe that this should be left to specialists. The developmentally impaired and non-impaired communities have an interest in art in common. This interest may provide a common ground where the two communities can communicate and interact. Art as an alternative form of communication can facilitate dialogue and interaction, and has the ability to play an active role and make a positive contribution to the process of integration.

Integration, which means to unite (Webster, 1976, p. 953), is the opposite of segregation, or the setting apart (Webster, 1976, p. 1643). The segregation of people with developmental impairments has resulted in unequal treatment and in oppression, and caused unnecessary suffering. ‘Sheltering’ a population from the rest of society is a form of segregation. Integration is used to remedy the harmful effects caused by segregation. The implementation of integration is facing many challenges according to Kroeber and van Dongen(1997) who state that: According to research [in The Netherlands], people in the [non-impaired] community become cautious when people with developmental impairments move into the community (p. 80).

This is not surprising according to Kroeber and van Dongen (1997), because: ...previously people with developmental disabilities were kept systematically out of the community, and care takers and care givers took
on the role of specialist, implying that non-specialists are not capable of
dealing with people with developmental disabilities. People do not know how to interact with people with developmental disabilities, they do not have the experience, and are under the impression that this should be left to specialists...(p. 80).
Their research also shows that the non-impaired community welcomes the increased visibility of people with developmental disabilities, but that this view changes as people with developmental disabilities came become more visible. Fear and insecurity about how to interact with people with developmental disabilities increase, and stun interaction between the two communities. Without interaction there is no real integration.

The process of integration has been interpreted by the non-disabled community as a uni-directional process, in which the minority, the impaired community, is expected to integrate, or rather 'fit in' with the majority, the non-impaired community. The current process of integration needs to be transformed in order to be successful. The uni-directional process of integration, in which one group has to conform to another, needs to be transformed so that it provides opportunities for people to meet unconditionally, allowing everybody to be ‘beings for themselves’ rather than ‘beings for others’, and thus maintaining their uniqueness, identity and culture. Respect for the culture of people with developmental impairments is a condition for change according to Amidei (1995): Change can occur when we begin to accept people with developmental challenges as an integral part of our culture, while also constituting a culture unto themselves (#4, p. 1).

Art has the ability to facilitate such a ‘non-directional’ process of integration, as Peter's case illustrated. Art, as expression of identity and culture, will guarantee
the preservation of that identity and culture. Art as an alternative and parallel form of communication can facilitate the necessary dialogue and interaction, without which integration is not complete. In this capacity art can play an active role and make a positive contribution to the process of integration. Peter’s case illustrated how respect of his artistic expressions enabled him to expand and reach out, and simultaneously brought others closer to him, providing them with an opportunity to learn about Peter’s abilities.


Failure to attain an age-appropriate developmental level is often attributed to the developmental impairment of an individual, rather than the limiting, disabling, and oppressive nature of the environment and conditions created by society. People with developmental impairments are expected to conform to the limited role society has prescribed for them, even if they lack the necessary skills or intellect. Artistic talents are often ignored and left unexplored, even though they may lead to valuable economical and social contributions.

Art-making has the potential to drastically improve the quality of life of people with developmental impairments. The studio art program at Austin Special has proven that art-making has the potential to generate substantially more income for the clients than the current work provided through work center. As a medium for self-expression, art can serve as an important alternative form of communication, specially for those whose ability to use spoken and written language is impaired. The shared interest of the developmentally impaired and non-impaired communities in art, may provide a common ground where the communities can meet, communicate and interact. As an alternative form of communication art can facilitate the dialogue and interaction for a non-directional process of integration. The view that the art created by people with developmental impairments is unique, and can be viewed as cultural expression is gaining international recognition. It is clear from the video that art-making is a very appropriate and worthwhile activity for people with developmental disabilities, but this does not mean that art-making should be presented to them in the context of therapy, even though art-making may provide therapeutic benefits.

6 References

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