Inspiring and Liberating the Human Spirit Through the Arts: 2020 Athena Award Recipient Patty Mitchell< < Back to
Patty Mitchell, the founder and executive director of Passion Works, was named the 2020 recipient of the Athena Award. The award is presented by the City of Athens and the Athens City Commission on Disabilities every year to someone who demonstrates outstanding service to improving the community for those with disabilities.
Passion Works is a collaborative community art studio the utilizes a creative abundance model to empower people with developmental disabilities and the community at large. Mitchell is the founder and executive director of the organization, but she stressed that her receiving the award is really the entire studio and its many staff and volunteers receiving the award.
“Everything comes from experience,” Mitchell said when asked about the founding of Passion Works. “I had a brother who was institutionalized. He was two years older than me, so I grew up with this mysterious concept of institutionalization. He passed away when he was 12 and I was 10, and as I was growing up I committed myself to living for the both of us and studying institutionalization.”
Mitchell received her undergraduate degree from Ohio University, spending a year in an experiential education program living on the grounds of the Athens Mental Health Center.
“I saw some beautiful things – Anne Randolph was writing plays and putting them on with people and it was magnificent, it was fantastic! People just came to life,” Mitchell said. “I also saw a lot of control, and a lot of injustice.”
Mitchell said that even though “the creative, respectful way” of treating patients at the center was “easier, and more humane,” it was still not the primary experience patients were having, which made her dream of opening an art studio in the center all the more important. When the Athens Mental Health Center closed in 1993, Mitchell was introduced to ATCO in Athens, which inspired her further.
“It was this big, giant space that served people with developmental differences in a work environment – and I saw it for what it was and for what it could be,” Mitchell said. Over the course of the next several years, Mitchell would hold collaborative art making events funded by grants from the Ohio Arts Council, leading up to the 1996 “The Story of Flying” installation that was featured in the Kennedy Museum of Art.
An Ohio University student was assigned to go to the exhibition and write a response to the artwork, but instead, he wrote about how he and some of his friends used to bully and beat up a kid in their neighborhood who had developmental differences.
“He wrote about his regret, and it was very revealing and brave,” said Mitchell. “From that moment on it went from being this intense delight of experiencing and discovering to becoming a mission.”
In 1998 Passion Works was founded, and Mitchell said that she and the rest of the studio have been “following it ever since.”
Instead of conforming to the norm of a controlling, scarcity model, Mitchell said Passion Works “embraces the abundance, asset-based model.”
“With a controlling model, I’m going to make sure you are occupied and then I will go on to the next person, and the next person, and the next – or leave them alone and to their own devices, and that just creates chaos,” Mitchell said. “What we do in the studio is develop the structure and we surrender the process. There is a lot of time and energy that is put into creating a space that is welcoming and ready for people to make in – so that they are comfortable, and they have choice and they can self-navigate. Then people are doing what they want to do with confidence, and we help them get there because we are clear with our messaging. We understand that people want to do what they want to do, and if people are given the opportunity, the negative behaviors just fall of the charts.”
Passion Works is an experiential learning space not only for the community, but for other national and international organizations looking to experience the creative abundance model.
What we do (at Passion Works) is develop the structure and we surrender the process. There is a lot of time and energy that is put into creating a space that is welcoming and ready for people to make in – so that they are comfortable, and they have choice and they can self-navigate. Then people are doing what they want to do with confidence, and we help them get there because we are clear with our messaging. We understand that people want to do what they want to do, and if people are given the opportunity, the negative behaviors just fall of the charts. – Patty Mitchell, founder and executive director of Passion Works and recipient of the 2020 Athena Award
“If we are going to talk about people learning through experience, we have to create the experience to have the best opportunity for them to see what is possible. That is what Passion Works is – we want to do the best for Athens, and we want to create an example for the world,” Mitchell said, explaining that the creative abundance model embodied in Passion Works is one that she has brought to domestic violence shelters, memory wards, extended care facilities, and prisons. “Ultimately, people are all the same — in that we like to do what we like to do and we need connection, purpose, and belonging in order to thrive.”