By Silvana Di Ravenna, Joe McMahon and Alice Kozdemba
In celebration of creativity and talent, the Arc of the Arts Studio and Gallery hosted its 15th annual Building Bridges art gala and auction at the Hyatt Regency on Barton Springs Rd. on Oct. 22. The gala is one of several annual events that the organization hosts to showcase the work of the studio’s 65 artists. Arc of the Arts is part of the Arc of the Capital Area, a nonprofit organization that provides support to intellectually or developmentally challenged teens and adults.
The night featured dozens of art displays, from jewelry and paintings, to drawings and sculptures. Dressed in cocktail attire, artists, donors and volunteers gathered around the displays to marvel at the vibrant colors and creations that were being proudly showcased by the artists of the Arc. Guests were served dinner, and had the chance to participate in art auctions and raffles. Building Bridges is a chance for Arc students to display their best pieces, and all proceeds made at the gala go back into the program.
Ann Wieding, Arc program manager, said students work on skills all year and instructors go through a critique process with each artist to determine which pieces will be displayed at Building Bridges.
“We take pictures and we talk about it, and the really nice pieces start to float to the top,” Wieding said. “Bridges is where everybody puts in 110 percent, and picks out their best piece.”
Tala S. a fifth year student with the program, was dressed to her best for the gala in a leopard printed dress , black jeweled necklace and a matching hat. She stood by her canvas painting of the Austin skyline and smiled for pictures and visitors. Tala has spent her time at the Arc mastering landscape and architecture painting styles.
“I find inspiration in Austin. I’m a big people person and I enjoy this place,” Tala said.
Students like Tala attend daily art classes at the Arc of the Arts Studio on Grover Ave. The classes are offered to students 14 and up, and most of the artists have common developmental disabilities, like autism, down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Classes take place Tuesday-Saturday and cost $25 a day per student.
Tala met her best friend Stephen at the Arc, who has been with the program since 2011. Stephen specializes in animal sculptures and jewelry. He has recently created several rooter sculptures that are intricately bedazzled with exuberant jewels. One of his roosters was showcased at the gala, and was sold almost immediately in the silent auction.
“My mind picks the colors. My mind tells me what to do,” he said.
Arc classes provide students with basic art instruction from teachers who come from art education backgrounds. They work with students to develop individual skills and interests, as well as providing them with practical skills to help professionalize their artistic careers.
“Every week they learn a new skill, and when they start focusing on what they want to do as artists, we start taking them through the steps to become a professional artist,” Wieding said.
In addition to classes and showcases hosted by the Arc, the student artwork has been displayed at local businesses in Austin, such as Hey Cupcake, Quacks Bakery and Kerbey Lane. Ali. H, a current art student , did the series of paintings that are currently displayed at the Hey Cupcake on Burnet Road. Wieding said part of the organization’s mission is to teach the students how to market themselves as working artists.
“Ali went there and helped hang the show, and she was interviewed by Community Impact,”Wieding said. “They pretty much follow the procedures that any artist would follow. They have to make the contacts, and do the PR, even if they’re not going to be the world’s most recognized artists.”
The Arc of the Capital Area was founded in 1949, and was originally called The Association of Retarded Children. Organizers changed the name to Arc, and the arts program was added in 2010. Susan Eason, executive director of the Arc initially came to the organization as a client with her daughter , who was born with a developmental disability. Eason enjoyed the program so much that she began volunteering, and eventually became the director.
“It’s really hard when you have a child with disabilities to find child care,” said Eason. “I wanted to meet other families and I was so impressed with the help they gave me that I became a volunteer.”
Eason has been the Arc director for 23 years, and she said the program is currently waitlisted. Their youngest students are 14-years-old and the oldest is 60-years-old.
“We serve people from the minute they’re diagnosed until the end of their life. Most students learn how to socialize here. Before this they had no peers or friends. “
In addition to classes, the Arc helps families deal with caring for developmentally challenged loved ones, especially as they approach adulthood. Amiee Chonoski, Arc marketing and volunteer coordinator, said that the most rewarding part of the job is knowing that they are helping students and their families connect and learn from each other.
“I love working with the Arc because we have an amazing staff, and they love what they do and that’s a beautiful thing to be around every day,” Chonoski said. “The artists are incredible, they are heroes.”