Youths learn Down syndrome doesn’t limit artistic spirit
Rahmel Muntzer, 11, learns to use watercolors Monday during Art Smart, an art class for children and adults with Down syndrome and autism, at the S.M.I.L.E. on Down syndrome office at 105 NW Fourth St. in Downtown Evansville. The eight-week class explores different art media and teaches techniques to allow the students to express themselves through art. Muntzer loves to draw and paint and spends a lot of time at home creating art.
EVANSVILLE — Down syndrome is no hindrance to the creation of art. That’s the lesson seven area youths with Down syndrome are learning during an eight-week Art Smart class being taught by local photographer and artist Nikki Davis.
Davis, who is also interim director of S.M.I.L.E. on Down Syndrome, tells her students that art has no boundaries, no limitations and that artists use their creative vision to express their feelings or ideas.
S.M.I.L.E., is an acronym for Support, Management, Information, Love and Encouragement, a network and support organization for parents and families with Down syndrome children. Although the organization focuses on individuals with Down syndrome, the classes which explore different media — clay, acrylics, watercolors, pencils, charcoal and pastels — are also open to individuals with autism.
“Art provides one more avenue of ability, rather than focusing on a disability, it provides opportunity for creativity,” Nina Fuller, founder and president of S.M.I.L.E. said.
As paint brushes swirled watercolors across paper, the budding artists learned to use bright colors, water and different types of brushes to create their own vision of landscapes.
“What’s the first thing we learned?” Davis asks the students.
“Everybody’s painting will look different” she and the students reply.
Davis, started the classes because she felt through art the students learn valuable life skills that can also translate into everyday life.
“I chose to pursue this as option for our members because art helps meet a number of goals that we have for our attendees. Art offers: physical and occupational training through improving motor skills, cognitive training by improvement of memory, prioritization, planning, organization, psychosocial training by improving interpersonal skills, expression of feelings and meets emotional goals by improving impaired control, by easing anxiety, and by giving our artists a sense of pride and accomplishment,” Davis said.
Artists, Tim Kramer, 31, left, Tess Fuller, 18, center and Nick Billig, 18, explore how different brushes create different effects as they lean how to paint with water colors at Art Smart. At the end of the eight-week course the students will hold a community art show on May 17 where they will be able to sell their art and keep 100 percent of the profits. Fuller has already created several works of art she is very proud of and is looking forward to the art show.
Classes are held every other Monday, free of charge to participants at Wired Coffeehouse at 111 NW Fourth St. in Downtown Evansville. Supplies are provided by SMILE with help from a grant from the Evansville Optimist Club.
Chris Hanisch and her daughter Harli, 10, drove from Carmi, Ill., to attend Monday night’s class. Evansville is the closest city that offers theses types of programs for special needs children, something that Hanisch feels is important for her daughter despite the distance.
“Having her involved in programs like this help her build new friendships and have interactions with other children like her,” Hanisch said “but it also teaches her how to listen and follow directions.”
She feels it’s important to provide her daughter with opportunities to try different activities, whether it is sports, or art. “ We (as parents) strive for the same things as parents of children without disabilities, want them to have access to same activities and for them to have a normal childhood despite the limitations they have.”
For many of the other participants art classes has given them another outlet of creativity. Nick Billig, 18, Rahmel Muntzer, 11, and Joe Wildeman, 17, now consider themselves artists after taking several classes. Their parents have seen them take what they learned from class and make works of art at home.
“ Joe draws all the time,” his mother, Mary Wildeman said. “ He makes line drawings, with a Sharpie he makes different designs, almost like stained glass, and then he colors them in. We practically have an entire wall full of his drawings,” she said.
At the end of the course each student will have several pieces of salable art which will be on display at a community art show 6:30-8 p.m. Friday, May 17 at Wired Coffeehouse.
“Proceeds from the art each student chooses to put up for sale at the show, will go directly to the artist,” Davis said.
By selling their art, she hopes the students will gain a sense of pride and build their self esteem as an artist, as well as foster a love for expressing themselves through art.
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