Passion Works: A Story of Flying
Passion Works
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Patty Mitchell· David Barba
Interview with David Barba
David Barba is the manager of ATCO's adult program and administrator of the grant which funds Passion Works.
How did the program of Passion Works evolve?
It probably goes back about five years ago as part of a community inclusion program,. We were looking for different opportunities for people to participate in and came upon Patty Mitchell. We talked to her about doing a small art program with some of the clients That was really successful, the clients had a great time with it, and from that we wrote our first grant to the Ohio Arts Council. I believe it was less than probably a week's residency at the time, but we had so much fun with that, we decided that we would write a two week residency grant to the Ohio Arts Council and from that two week residency we had an opening. It was Birds of Paradise end showing at the Kennedy Museum at Ohio University and it brought community members, the clients we serve, artists in the community together, and it just created this wonderful synergy that ended up this wonderful show that was well attended and we sat back and thought we have something going on here.

[At the end of the residency] I talked to Patty and I said, “Are you ready for this to be over?” She said, “No”, I mean she was like almost pleading. I said that I really believed that we could find funding internally and this could grow into something much larger. At that point we got our heads together. She knew that there were nine-month residencies available through the Ohio Arts Council, but that they were rare and usually went to traditional settings-usually schools and school-age programs. But we thought we had something really unique and good so we wrote a grant and crossed our fingers and low and behold they granted us that first ninth month residency and that's when things really took off.
How do you think sheltered/vocational workshops are helping or not helping these gifted people?
Well I think there is a role for sheltered workshops, and I think that they can serve some of the needs, but I think what we're finding is that for so many years a sheltered workshop really built its services around people's deficits. It was there to support the obvious-a particular disability, a dysfunction, a behavioral issue-and that still has a role. But I think what we're really finding is that it has to start moving in a new direction and that's really person-centered choice and that was really lacking for many years. Now in fact we need to look at what do people want and allow them to make choices about their life.
How would you describe Passion Works?
Well describing Passion Works is interesting because in the beginning I thought it was just going to be this nice little program in house that would expose our clientele to the arts, but Passion Works is really much more than that. It is allowing people to participate more fully in their community and I didn't see that necessarily right in the beginning. It is such a collaborative venture, I was saying earlier we bring in people from the community, artists from around the state, artists within our community here locally, our staff members, families-it's been that kind of contribution from everyone that has made it, I think, so unique. What has meant the most to me is that it's really focused on people's abilities. Patty really has a wonderful way of bringing everyone's abilities out.

Early on I saw something in her that made me realize she worked with whatever someone's ability was. I've told this particular story many times, but it was a thing that grabbed my attention about Patty the very first time. I walked back into the studio late in the evening and Patty was sitting at a table and we began to talk about how things were going on the residency. As we were talking I noticed that she was taking these little shreds of tiny cut-up pieces of paper and she's putting a dab of glue on each one and putting them on a piece of work that had been being done in the studio that day and I finally had to stop talking and say, “Patty what are you doing?” And she just looked up and said, “Well, Linda was in the studio today and she said I don't know if it's all she could do, all she wanted to do, but this is what she did today, so I want to make sure it's part of what happened in the studio so when she comes back tomorrow, she could see that she participated. And it was at that moment, I knew I wanted to keep this woman working for us, she gets it. She had focused in on what was someone's ability and she was going to take the smallest component of that and she was going to build on it for the next day. And that was exciting to me, so right then I kind of made up mind, we're going to figure out a way to do this because so many other people will have swept that off the table as just so much trash at the end of the day, she didn't do that, so that was unique, that was inspiring.
A developmentally disabled persons has many obstacles in our culture, will you explain what you think those obstacles are?
Well the obstacles that individuals with disabilities, any disability, in my case I work with mental retardation, developmental disabilities, but within our culture, almost anyone is, has any significant differences is marginalized in so many ways and probably in our population, because so many were sheltered in so many ways. In many of the early years, people with mental retardation were hospitalized and mostly in mental institutions, so many people with mental retardation really exhibited most of the classic symptoms of mental illness because they were in fact housed in institutions for so many years. So the obstacles that they faced are like many people who have been ostracized and marginalized as that people have a certain amount of fear, part of the things that bothered me for so many years when I first came in is that you didn't read many positive things in the media about individuals with disabilities in fact if you read something was more likely to be some deviancy was being reported in man with mental retardation did this particular thing (22:05). And I think there was fear, most of us grew up in schools where we didn't go to school with individuals with disabilities. They either didn't go to school, they were kept at home, or in the early days there were a few schools that maybe they were at so I think what they face is when they were finally trying to find their rightful place in communities is that people had a fear because of the differences. Many times it's because they don't speak as clearly (22:33). They have part of their impairment might be in speech. They look significantly different at times. Certain characteristics of people with down syndrome, people who are autistic and so the challenges are when they finally started coming out of institutions and going into programs, sheltered programs much like our own is that once again they were removed from the community and they were stigmatized by that and their challenges are also is that for the most part they're poor and that on top of having a disability that you tend to be poor, marginalizes you even further (23:13).
How have you seen Passion Works impact the community?
A friend of Patty's who was teaching at the university, she had a class of hers go to the [A Story of Flying] exhibition and then write a response paper to it. I remember she asked the student if it could be shared with us because he had gone to the show. He expected to see a show that a bunch of mentally retarded people had put together, instead it ended up being a really moving experience for him. He wrote his response paper about the fact that when he was growing up there was a mentally retarded boy in his neighborhood and he never saw him as human. And he used to beat him up on a pretty regular basis. And when he went to the show, and he saw this work, he realized that kid he beat up all those years ago was more like him than he was different than him. And he felt horrible. And it changed him and we realized then that that was the vehicle that Passion Works could also be. It could be about the art, it could be about the individual, but it could change people's perceptions. It could allow people with disabilities to find the rightful place in the community because we would expose finally that they are more like you than they are unlike you.
What is the greatest obstacle facing a disabled person?
I think the greatest challenges for individuals with disabilities is to be able to probably find work that can sustain them, give them a quality of life that they deserve as any other one in their communities. It seems like a simple thing, but it's a huge issue, if in fact you can't have some control over your own life and your own destiny by being able to earn an income, you're constantly at the mercy of programs that say, “well this is what we'll provide you, but these are only the ways you can use it.” If you live a life without choice, what would that life look like to you? We don't even take into account how many choices we make in any given day. I make choices from the time I put my foot on the floor. I make the choice of am I going to work today? Am I getting up? I make the choice about what I'm going to wear. I make the choice am I going to have a breakfast and what that's going to be? I am going to make choices constantly, probably within the context of my job during that day. I am going to make choices at that end of that week when I get my pay. I am going to make choices about how I'm going to spend my money, how I entertain myself.

These are choices for the most part that don't exist in many [disabled] people's lives. People pick out their clothes for them. They pick out what they're going to eat everyday. The smallest things that we take for granted are taken away on a regular basis by different forms of institutions. And then we wonder why people can't make a choice about something significant in their life. What base of knowledge can they draw on when most of the time programs are set up to not allow a lot of choice? So that's probably the most significant challenge.
Can you elaborate a little on the concept of there not being fear in art?
Sure, I think one of the exciting things about the studio is that we watch people work and begin to explore the arts. The theme that is coming back to us from other artists who are participating, professional artists and others, is that there is this element [that the artists] have no fear. They're willing to put pen to paper, take the brush stroke. They're not worried about who's judging it. They're not waiting for inspiration because they see inspiration all around them and it translates into some work of some immediacy.

There's no fear in this studio, there is no ego in this studio. Work is allowed to flow from one hand to the other. You know it is so unique to see someone where they'll have done a certain part of the painting and they're so willing to hand it off to somebody else for them to contribute to it. And that's been really inspiring to other artists because traditionally artists work very much by themselves in their studios. This whole notion that most everything that happens in the studio is collaborative and that everyone has their fingerprints over everything is been really liberating I think to a lot of the artists that have come in for residencies. Artists that we've hired to work part-time in the studio say that they look at their work differently now and that's been exciting to see that.
Do you see other ways that Passion Works is changing art?
I've always felt that there was a little bit of elitism to how the arts are set up usually. Most people don't feel that they have ownership of the arts. They think that they're for a certain strata within the culture to enjoy whether it be the theater or the symphony or going to an opening at a museum. You'd be surprised at how many people have never had that simple pleasure because they feel that it's not for them. And it's because we've made art exclusive. And I think our studio, because it's so collaborative and it makes people get their fingers messy, stick your hands in, be involved, tells people “you too can make art, you can participate in this process.”

Our art doesn't just go into a gallery, we're thrilled when it does, but we're thrilled when it's in a restaurant being exposed in people's lives. We know that it also starts telling us another story: that the arts are important within the community. Maybe a parent will start to think when there is talk about removing arts within a school system because there is going to be budget cuts. We've been really convinced that those are the first things to go because they're not as important. But those are the most important things in your schools. We've just allowed ourselves to believe that because we've allowed art to be too removed from our daily lives.
Can you talk about an artist whose talents have surprised you?
Marty Matthews, he was someone who really caught me off guard. Marty is very physically involved with his disability and that means he is very physically challenged. He's in a wheelchair, his arms are very spastic, but he has a smile that won't stop. And when he finally got involved in the studio, he got involved with Wendy Minor, a very talented local artist. She really got into working with Marty, and I didn't really know where it was going to go, because I wondered how much Marty was able to do because of that physically involvement. But one day I was back there after hours and I was going through a drawer of paintings that Wendy had been working on with different artists in the studio. And suddenly I pulled out this painting and .it was one of the most beautiful paintings that I had seen in the studio. I was immediately drawn to it and attracted to it. And I said, “Wow, who did this?” And Wendy got this big smile and she says, “Who do you think did this?” I kind of went through my litany of the people who had been developing as artists in the studio and developing some skill and no, no it wasn't. And she finally told me it was Marty, and I was really just floored. That was my first response and I said, “Can I take this painting with me for a little bit, because I want to show people around the building.” And as I was walking back to my office I felt this twinge of real embarrassment of, why was it that I didn't think, that it could be Marty? I knew Marty was painting, I knew he was in the studio and I realized I had put a limitation on Marty. I had been 20 years in the field, thought I was a really strong advocate for clients, and yet I had dismissed that this could have been possible. So suddenly I realized I had a lot to learn. So I went around and I took it to almost every staff member that I could find in the building and showed them this beautiful painting and said, “Guess who did it?” And I found the same thing — that we were all limiting people, no matter what we thought. We thought Marty incapable of making something that beautiful.