A few years ago, Charles FitzPatrick began submitting some of his artwork to the New York State Fair.
An art student at Arc of Seneca Cayuga — a local nonprofit for people with disabilities — FitzPatrick initially turned to staff members for help, and Arc filled out the application and provided the funds. But as time passed, FitzPatrick grew more and more independent, until he was able to earn his own money and submit the application himself.
"Charles has autism, and over the past several years he has gained and attained several skills to enter himself into the state fair," said Sue Sargeant, a program coordinator at Arc. "This year, he was totally independent. He went and got his own stuff, dropped it off and dealt with the whole submission process himself."
At 30 years old, FitzPatrick has participated in weekly art sessions at Arc for nearly a decade. His favorite part, he said: the creativity.
"My mind explores more here," he said, smiling. "We bounce a lot of ideas off each other and people come to me for advice on some projects. ... It's the creativity here. I like coming out here for it."
FitzPatrick isn't the only one.
According to Ed Sayles, the community relations consultant at Arc, attendance in the agency's art programs has increased nearly 20 percent in the past year. There are now roughly 45 people with disabilities who participate in creative arts sessions every week, and more than half of them work part-time.
Both Sayles and Sargeant have credited Arc with much of the students' success in the community, as well as Arctic Gear a headwear company founded by the Arc of Seneca Cayuga and is manufactured at Finger Lakes Textiles as many of the skills learned in the arts translate to the workplace. Additionally, the funds from the purchases of the hats made for Arctic Gear go right back into providing vital services like our Digital Art Therapy Program.
"It translates in a variety of ways," Sergeant said. "They're learning organizational skills, how to clean up after themselves, time management and problem-solving. ... And they're gaining the confidence and socialization skills to take initiative."AUBURN — Thursday afternoon, just before rehearsal starts, Spot Light Studio is utter chaos …
That's why Arc created new sessions this year, including digital arts lessons and film production.
Computer Art & Design For All explores the use of computer imaging and design programs as artist tools, Sergeant said. Meanwhile, Fearless Video Productions allows students to learn videography as they create their own web series for cable access and YouTube.
"Everybody that comes here just gets excited because that's the kind of atmosphere it is," Sargeant said. "This 'can do' attitude takes over."
Much of that artwork is displayed in Arc's newly renovated Spot Light Studio. The studio will host the nonprofit's ninth annual art exhibition Friday, providing students the opportunity to discuss and sell their artwork.
"They're learning how to talk about their art when the community comes in for the art show," she said. "We've critiqued and talked and shared with one another and we can now translate that upstairs when the community comes in. Now, they can hold a conversation."
As for the studio's renovations, Sayles said it was important to Arc to make sessions more professional, to show students that their work is taken seriously.
"By improving all of the physical qualities of this space, that tells the participants that they're valued, they're important and that what they're doing is a big thing," he said. "We're not just giving them lip service. We believe in this. We believe in them.
"We hope that this is just one other continuation of building an inclusive community," Sayles added. "These individuals, despite their disabilities, have so much to give and it only makes us better."