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Your Dollars @ Work: Creating a Community through the Arts

This Your Dollars @ Work post highlights an arts programming model for young adults with autism developed by Make Studio Art Program, Inc., a nonprofit arts and disabilities organization in Baltimore, Maryland. Make Studio received a Family Services Community Grant of nearly $15,000 in 2013 and developed a detailed curriculum to help other art programs replicate their successful model.

Thanks to Make Studio, YOU can replicate this program near you! Learn how and download the full manual below...

About the Program

Make Studio is a nonprofit arts and disabilities in organization in Baltimore that received a grant from Autism Speaks to develop an art program to prepare young adults with autism to engage in community-integrated and customized employment. 

The successful program links the development of skills important for successful transitions – vocational, interpersonal, social, critical thinking – to the complete studio arts process (i.e., from pre-development of an art project through its exhibition and audience response).

The staff does not "teach art," but rather facilitates the optimal development of individuals' artistic styles and presentation and marketing strategies to enable art sales, all the while providing mentorship in generalizable work habits. 

Success Stories!

Erika, age 20, has been a participating artist at Make Studio for almost two years. For her first few months, she was all but silent throughout her work days and would hide her signature within the images she created. By the end of the pilot period, Erika co-hosted a visiting group of artists, entertaining their questions about being a working artist. She recently accepted an invitation to work as a teaching artist-mentor at a large, local children's museum, where she engaged children with disabilities and their families in art activities and fielded questions about her own artwork!

Zach, age 25, began working at Make Studio over three years ago. When he enrolled, he often appeared almost desperate for explicit drawing instruction, expressing doubt in his abilities. He was encouraged to trust his own ideas, skills and compositions. The staff started to more explicitly support him in his work in the studio and as a result, Zach's personal growth and newfound trust in himself and his creative process appeared to burst forth in a manner not before seen from him. Zach's perseverance and hard work was rewarded when it was selected for recognition at a regional autism conference. Not only did Zach graciously receive his award there in front of an audience numbering over 500, he also delivered an eloquent acceptance speech that brought many in the crowd to tears. Zach capped off his activities during the pilot year by having his work featured in and sold at a high profile group exhibit at the "Top of the World" gallery in the Baltimore World Trade Center!

Testimonials

A relatively non-verbal artist was excited to talk about his end-of-the year accomplishments and other things he enjoyed during the program year:

“I loved making the octopus and Baltimore City and the Inner Harbor [paintings for a high-profile show at the Baltimore World Trade Center. This year I learned about painting. First you paint background color, then shadow color, and then highlight colors. I use pictures to draw from. I use pencil to draw and I look closely at things. I like to make up my own colors when I paint instead of the picture ones. At Artscape [a big art festival], I saw a picture of Shere Khan [hanging in a booth]. I made it! A lot of people saw the Shere Khan picture. It was good, good!! . . . . This year, I have worked on saying hello to everyone. I am doing it independently and it makes other people feel happy. They say hello back to me and I feel good about it. It's new for me."

Another Make Studio participant:

"What really helped me was to be able to express how I truly feel about a lot of things, especially because my mother passed away last year. I feel that Make Studio is close to home, and it’s not about the money or the fame. It’s about people with disabilities like myself who want to share their art with the world, and that maybe someday people with disabilities get accepted for who they are and not get judged.”

The mother of an artist talked about the range of skills developments she's seen occur in her son: 

“Self-esteem has soared, verbal interaction with individuals in the community, increased socialization with typical individuals as well as his business perspective and increased fiscal awareness of work-to-reward level...He really did not have a passion for the work he was doing. He now realizes how his art can not only be a sense of joy for him, but a source of joy for others as well as a source of income. This revelation has caused him to enhance his socialization skills, assess his work ethic and become more of a positive thinker around employment. How does the saying go—‘Love what you do and you will never have to work a day in your life’—my son is getting to understand that philosophy with his experience at Make Studio.”

What Makes the Program so Successful?

The studio implements seven key elements in making their studio a "learning laboratory":

  1. Schedule - Studio work times are scheduled to complement and support, rather than compete with, other important commitments such as jobs, post-graduate education or volunteering.
  2. Staffing/Mentorship - Rather than teaching art skills in the style of a classroom or instructional workshop, staff support artists in fully realizing their own styles of expression.
  3. Shared Workspace/Materials - There are no seat assignments and artists are free to consistently select a certain workspace.
  4. Inclusive Community - The model inherently involves opportunities for artists to have multiple interaction partners from varied walks of life, both within the more controlled milieu of the studio, as well as in the community.
  5. Professional Structures and Standards - Staff hold high, but achievable and individualized expectations for each artist.
  6. Self-direction in Subject Matter and Approach - Artists are expected to identify themes of interest to them to create personally satisfying artwork that communicates their interests and perspectives.
  7. Setting and Tracking Individualized Goals - Individualized goals are developed in support of each artist's growth.

A Note from the Director

Below is a post from Jill Scheibler, Director/Program Administrator at Make Studio:

“Although we have just recently completed our grant-funded project with Autism Speaks, it is clear to me and my staff that having this opportunity has made a phenomenal and lasting impact on how our staff engages with our younger artists on the autism spectrum. It was a much-needed impetus to take on such an ambitious project for our small organization. It’s paying off, as we’re now confident that we can effectively serve more of these folks, while continuously evaluating and improving our services along the way. Make Studio is happily celebrating our 5th anniversary this month, and over the previous few years we’d developed and implemented what we felt was a solid and beneficial arts program for adults with disabilities. However, the funds from Autism Speaks allowed us to really hone the aspects of our programming that could be grown and adapted to specifically support the professional and personal development of individuals with autism, and simultaneously increased our footprint in the community. In light of pressing needs for that growing population, both in our local community and nationwide, we are extremely proud that we’re now better equipped to serve these wonderfully talented, but often overlooked, individuals."

Download the program curriculum and read more great testimonials and detailed success stories here!

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.