‘To Inspire And Liberate The Human Spirit Through The Arts’

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As Highco adjusts to the addition of a newly implemented fine arts program, a documentary crew will look closely at the impact of art on their workshop and its individuals throughout the coming months.

Highco, Inc., the Adult Services department of Hills and Dales Training Center, works to employ adults with disabilities.

This includes both jobs in the local community and in a sheltered workshop environment.

“We are trying our hardest to reach out to the community and get individuals out there and be a bigger part of the community instead of stuck in a workshop all day long,” Highco employee Jordan Freeze said.

Highco has added the art program under the direction of Patty Mitchell, a photographer and artist from Athens who started Passion Works in 1996. Through Norwich Consulting Services, a Columbus-based company providing “practical training and problem-solving for human service organizations,” she and the Passion Works program “go into traditionally sheltered workshops and offer alternatives that complement and add to them,” Mitchell said.

The program’s mission is “to inspire and liberate the human spirit through the arts.”

Mitchell said that her program provides structure and materials, but individuals are free to explore the art as much as they want, as she called the program “person-driven, as opposed to a program that dominates.”

“I’m a big believer in creating opportunities to design your own programming,” Mitchell said. “Every program is different.

“I have a very different approach. I’m responding to people, not having them do what I want.”

Mitchell spent two weeks at Highco getting the program under way. She will remain in contact with Highco, while Freeze will be overseeing the studio. Photos and updates on the workshop’s progress will be posted on the Collaborative Art International Facebook page.

With this new program in place, the adults in the Highco workshop have had the opportunity to explore a variety of art media, including painting, drawing, woodworking and crocheting. They have experimented with other projects as well, such as building robot sculptures out of cans.

The art truly is collaborative, as many projects involve teamwork, such as one worker designing a woodworking project and another worker painting it.

Mitchell said that the Highco staff has been “so responsive and energetic,” and that her experience in Hillsboro has “been spectacular.” She added that the community’s generosity in donating materials is greatly appreciated.

Freeze said that the community is welcome to donate materials and encourages anyone interested in assisting with this new program to volunteer. Those interested in helping Highco workers with their art projects and other volunteering can contact Freeze at (937) 393-4237.

Effective Sept. 30, Highco has taken over the reins of the project. Freeze said they will spend the first few weeks figuring out a schedule and what works best for everyone.

Highco’s transition to an arts-based program will be one of the main focuses of an upcoming national documentary. Dr. Lynn M. Harter, recipient of the Barbara Geralds Schoonover Grant and professor of health communication at Ohio University, heads the production leadership team of The Work of Art.

The film is “an educational documentary that will offer the medical community and public at-large a glimpse of creative programming that integrates artful encounters in healthcare settings.”

Harter serves on the board of directors for Passion Works and wrote a book about the organization.

She said that she appreciates Passion Works’ ability to give artists “a sense of pride and an opportunity to be creative.

The Work of Art, produced in conjunction with Ohio University and WOUB, is also under the direction of Evan Shaw, producer at the WOUB Center for Public Media; Dr. Margaret M. Quinlan, assistant professor at University of North Carolina-Charlotte; and Thomas S. Hodson, Joe Berman Professor of Communication and Director of the WOUB Center for Public Media.

The documentary will look at the “range of clinic possibilities for creative programming with applications for diverse health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, oncology, developmental disabilities and neurological disorders.”

The film will focus on three separate programs: the Arts in Medicine Program at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston; DooR to DooR, a “healing arts” program in North Carolina; and Collaborative Art International, an Ohio-based arts program, including Passion Works, that works primarily with people with developmental disabilities.

Crews will be filming for nine months to document the evolution of these programs. Filming began in Highland County in early September.

Harter describes the film as a look at “the role of artists in a variety of health-related settings, and the role of art in helping to liberate the human spirit and allow individuals to thrive.”

“For me, it’s a privilege to create the space to tell the story,” Harter said.

Harter said that the documentary will show “how Highco can be a model across the United States” for similar programs, as the film will be aired nationally on PBS.

Mitchell agreed that the impact will be significant for both the Highco program and other related programs.

“We are doing a whole shift,” Mitchell said. “This will become a model for the world. They will have an incredible influence [when the documentary airs].”

Ultimately, Mitchell hopes that this project can turn into a new income source for those employed with Highco. Other such workshops have sold works of art on the Passion Works website and in local stores, and once the documentary airs, Mitchell believes that local and national interest in purchasing this art could potentially spread.

“It’s really pretty powerful,” Mitchell said. “It changes the outcome of how people can be recognized for their talents.”

For now, the art produced by individuals at Highco will be used to decorate the office at Hills and Dales. Past that, the possibilities are endless. Mitchell said the art could end up being displayed in other public buildings, such as the library or the hospital, or they could end up having art exhibits.

“It’s so simple, but it has an extraordinary impact,” Mitchell said. “I’ve seen people really fill up with life through programs like this.

“Art is therapy. It has a far-reaching benefit. I’m completely addicted to this process, and it’s really generated a life of its own.”

Article republished with permission from The Highland County Press.