artAbility 101

artAbility 101: the history of artAbility surrounded by a collage of artAbility photos through the years.

artAbility 101: the history of artAbility

The 2023 artAbility Showcase is fast approaching! Join us on April 17 from 5-7 pm PT at the 1912 Center.

It will mark nine years since the very first workshop. As we prepare to gather to celebrate this year’s artists and view their amazing work, there's no better time to take a fond look back.

artAbility is a student-led project that encourages people with disabilities to express themselves through art. This is achieved through art workshops planned by our Project Coordinator and led by local artists and University of Idaho (U of I) student helpers.

Workshops cover different art mediums each year, generally with an overarching theme. From woodworks to dance and culture, there’s no limit to what each workshop may focus on. It’s an excellent opportunity for all involved to explore the many facets of creativity.

Ashley is smiling and looking over her shoulder at the camera while she works on putting flowers together in a vase.

The project began in 2014 – born from the idea of an enterprising CDHD student trainee. That trainee was Ashley Kuznia.  She envisioned a project, free of charge, that provided adults with disabilities the opportunity to explore art in a supportive environment.

Thanks to support from trainee supervisor Olivia Lebens and funding from the University of Idaho Arts at Idaho: Student Arts-Fee Grant, Ashley’s vision came to life.

The very first workshop was Outdoor Oil Painting with local artist Aaron Johnson. Spanning two classes, participants worked outdoors at Heron’s Hideout to learn about observational sketching. They then transferred their images to canvas to paint them with oil paints.

Aaron Johnson is standing at an easel outside, thoughtfully painting the landscape around him with oil paints on a canvas

This was followed by two Watercolor and Alcohol Inks workshops with Lianne Wappett and two Wood Sculptures with David Herbold workshops. The latter saw participants painting, decorating and assembling hanging sculptures from wood shapes and found objects to create animal and robot sculptures.

2014 also saw the very first artAbility Showcase. While it was then named the artAbility Open House, the idea was the same – a gallery-style event to showcase the year’s artists and their work for their family, friends and the local community. 10 artists were featured, showcasing 50 pieces of art created over the course of the year. 150 people attended the event.

An overhead view of the many different paintings and artwork set up at the 1912 Center for the artAbility Showcase.

Ashely returned for the 2015-16 year. This year also marked the beginning of the Project’s relationship with Stepping Stones, Inc. The Moscow foundation has generously provided funding almost every year since, helping to ensure the Project continues to provide an inclusive and supportive environment for people with disabilities to create art.

This generosity (along with the U of I Arts in Idaho grant) helped Ashley plan another six workshops and a showcase before passing the Project Coordinator reigns to fellow trainee Kalli Sorber.

Kalli smiles and poses for the camera while standing at the front of a classroom. She is holding a water bottle.

Over the course of the 2015-16 year, Kalli planned six more unique workshops, introducing participants to a range of artistic mediums. This included Gelli Prints with Lianne Wappett and artAbility’s first poetry workshop. In Blackout Poetry instructed by Mackenzie McDermott, participants combined visual art with written words. The idea was to take passages from prose works and black out selected words to create a poem.

Mia and several other artAbility participants smile and bang on bongo drums.

Mia Giglio led the Project through 2017-18 and 2018-19. Under her leadership, the Project flawlessly sailed through 12 workshops. Not only did Mia introduce new mediums such as printmaking, collage and charcoal, but she also planned the Project’s first ever music-themed workshop – Percussion with Dr Lori Khan and students from the Lionel Hampton School of Music.

Under Mia, the end-of-year showcase also officially became the artAbility Showcase. She hosted the first ever artAbility Showcase at the Latah County Fairgrounds in 2019.

Mia is at the center of a large group of student trainees. Everyone is wearing black and smiling at the camera ahead of the artAbility Showcase.

By 2019-20 the Project was tried and tested. New Project Coordinator, Ernesto Marquez Montes was set to inherit a successful structure. He kicked things off with Mixed Media with Julene Ewert and planned the first ever photography-themed workshop series with Karen Rohn. Then COVID-19 hit.

As the pandemic shut down in-person interaction across the US, Ernesto didn’t miss a beat. He helped plan the first ever artAbility Digital Showcase, allowing participants, their families and friends to cap off another year of amazing art … online. 14 artists were included, displaying 31 pieces of art.

Ernesto stands tall during a workshop, providing instruction to participants.

While not the usual in-person celebration that participants were used to, the Digital Showcase did (and still does) allow visitors far and wide to view artAbility art. The very first Digital Showcase had 457 page visits – a number that has grown into the thousands since.

Still at the helm in 2020-21, Ernesto didn’t let the ongoing pandemic dampen artAbility’s spirit. The first ever virtual artAbility workshops were developed.   

Ernesto prepared art kits that could be safely picked up for participants to use at home. The kits included everything needed for their designated workshops. He then stepped in front of the camera to host Texture Painting and Color and Emotion Exploration Acrylic Painting over Zoom.

Ernesto is standing in front of two large screens and a camera. He is demonstrating a painting technique while participants look on over Zoom.

No stranger to artAbility firsts, Ernesto also coordinated with Stacia Morfin from Nez Perce Tourism to introduce culture exploration to the workshops. Stacia joined Ernesto to conduct the first Niimipuu Drumstick Making workshop. Participants learned about traditional Nez Perce culture, clothing and drumstick making via Zoom.   

2021-22 introduced the Project’s fifth (and current) Project Coordinator, Areli Morfin. It also saw the return to in-person workshops. Areli planned Cyanotype Printing with Sukha Worob. Participants were able to safely gather together once again to enjoy creating unique cyan-colored prints using found objects and the sun.

2022 was also a return to the traditional artAbility Showcase! Areli planned and hosted the event at the Latah County Fairgrounds, which showcased 17 artists and 100 pieces of artwork. More than 150 people attended the first in-person gathering in two years.

Areli Morfin smiles broadly at the camera at the Latah County Fairgrounds ahead of the artAbility Showcase.

After another six workshops, spanning spin-off art to music, Areli is capping off her second and final year as Project Coordinator with another in-person artAbility Showcase. This year’s event is shaping up to be another fantastic celebration, with 20 featured artists, 64 pieces of art, a musical performance led by students from the Lionel Hampton School of Music and more!

The event will return to Moscow’s 1912 Center on April 17 from 5-7 pm PT! Come be a part of artAbility’s history. Help us celebrate the artists, their work and nine terrific years of art in the local community.

We hope to see you there!