artAbility 10 year anniversary

Celebrating 10 years of artAbility

artAbility: 10 years of artistic expression

artAbility is underway for the 10th year in a row! For a decade, the project has been bringing together adults with disabilities and local artists in the Moscow community. This year marks 10 years of learning, socializing and artistic expression.

While we look forward to another schedule of workshops that bring unique and fun art, we are also looking back on the last 10 years with some of our previous Project Coordinators.

Areli Morfin (artAbility 2021-23), Ernesto Marquez Montes (artAbility 2019-2021), Mia Giglio (artAbility 2017-19) and Ashley Kuznia (artAbility 2014-16) generously spent some time reminiscing about their favorite memories and how artAbility enriched their time during and after the CDHD.

Four photos, starting from the left: Ashley preparing for the Showcase. She is looking over her shoulder and smiling at the camera. Ashley is posing with her arm around an artAbility participant. Both are smiling. Ernesto stands at the front of a workshop, looking at participants and giving instructions. Areli stands in front of an artboard at the Showcase and smiles for the camera.

How did artAbility start?

Ashley: In my first semester as an intern, Olivia, the Interdisciplinary Training Coordinator, noticed I was studying art and psychology. She commented how she wished students could observe Moscow’s Art Walk every summer, and that it would be great for adults with disabilities to engage more within the local art community as well.

She encouraged me to research how other communities have established programs to support this and to create a proposal respectively. My proposal for designing a series of art workshops with a culminating Showcase was approved.

Olivia and Matthew Wappett, the Principal Investigator, coached me through identifying and applying for grant funding to finance the project. Once we received the necessary funding, we worked to secure venues, hire workshop facilitators, train volunteers and market the Showcase to invite the community to attend.

Two photos: On the left, Ashley and an artAbility participant are discussing artwork outside with the local artist leading the workshop. On the right, an overhead shot of the floor layout of the first artAbility Showcase. A few people are looking at the displayed artwork.

Do you have any memorable moments from that first workshop, or getting the Project off the ground?

Ashley: I remember being touched (and still am) by how many people were willing to help. We received several donated frames. A local business provided custom-cut glass for our frames at no cost. A colleague, Sue House, custom-cut mats for each piece herself. The logo was created and provided by a graphic designer, Cori Harmon. And there were countless colleagues and volunteers who supported each workshop and showcase with transporting art supplies, building installation supports, photographing each piece, and spreading the word to encourage community engagement at the showcase each year. It was truly a team effort with the most generous showing of support.

What drew you all to the project?

Areli: Before I applied, Ernesto invited me to attend the virtual workshop called Scribble Bots to get a feel for what the workshops looked like, and also to meet a few of the participants who regularly attend these workshops. What drew me in was the art portion of it. I have always seen art as a way to bring people together and have fun.

Ernesto: I was drawn to artAbility because of my combined interests in art and connecting with individuals of diverse backgrounds and abilities. artAbility was a way for me to support freedom of self-expression and artistic exploration, which I believe can be self-healing and enhance anyone’s quality of life.

Mia: Initially, I was just excited to be doing something art related. Once I started the project, I became really interested in connecting with local artists on the Palouse. It was really interesting to learn about their craft and how they ran their businesses! It was also amazing to see a program specifically for adults with developmental disabilities. So many kids grow up having access to a million different projects, only to lose those resources as they age out of school. artAbility really fills that gap by providing an enriching activity for adults while also paying artists a fair wage.

Ashley: I was excited about the intersection of offering a creative outlet for adults with disabilities to express themselves. To do so in a way that was both affordable and accessible for participants, while inviting the community to support and learn more about their local artists with disabilities.   

Two photos: On the left, a group of artAbility participants, smiling and working on artwork during a workshop. On the right, a black and white photo of Toby Schults, considering his artwork as he works on it.

What did you like most about being the artAbility Project Coordinator?

Ashley: As a sophomore in college, this was one of the biggest responsibilities I’d ever been given that allowed me the opportunity to make an impact and offer something to my community, all whilst also building community. It holds a special place in my heart. Being the Project Coordinator allowed me to meet so many kind and interesting people that were also excited about the project – it was both humbling and incredibly fulfilling.

Ernesto: Above all, what I loved most about being the Project Coordinator was connecting with all the project participants. Art can be incredibly personal and seeing everyone participate, share their creative identity, and have that be celebrated was a privilege to be a part of.

Areli: I really liked planning and hosting the workshops and getting to know all the participants. It was always exciting to see their art, and they were always willing to share with me their ideas and their creative process. It was a great experience to see the interaction and engagement between students, staff and participants. It really helped bring people together and get to know one another through art.

Mia: I loved connecting with the participants and learning about what types of art they were passionate about. It was also amazing to connect students with the participants through volunteering. I loved to watch students absorb the information, then turn around and implement it during the workshops. The volunteer trainings are truly a needed lesson for so many people, and it was awesome to be a part of that.

What was your biggest success as Project Coordinator?

Ernesto: My biggest success as Coordinator is probably being able to continue offering artAbility workshops and a Showcase in a new way during the COVID-19 pandemic. I remember having begun planning how these would look only to have to change quickly after the lockdown and restrictions were implemented. With the support from everyone at CDHD, we were able to come up with a new plan and continue offering art workshops.

Areli: The Showcase [first in-person Showcase after the pandemic] was my biggest success because I was able to see all the artists showcase their artwork for the community to enjoy. I had a feeling of accomplishment seeing the end result of everyone's hard work and effort to make the Showcase happen.

Mia: I was most proud to have performance art in both project years. Like I said above, my first year we had drumming, and the second year we had poetry. We had performances at both showcases, which was a very fulfilling moment.

Ashley: Having been the first project coordinator for Moscow’s artAbility, I feel successful in knowing that the project has sustained to this day. It’s often what I refer to as my proudest accomplishment. Knowing how much joy the workshops brought to participants – and that it’s been considered meaningful enough to continue – brings me a lot of satisfaction. I’m grateful the community agrees it’s a service worth providing for years to come.

Two photos: On the left, Ernesto is showing participants different painting techniques over Zoom. On the right, rows of plastic cups with different colors of paint next to brown supply bags to be distributed to artAbility participants.

What was your biggest ‘lesson learned’ during your time in this role?

Ashley: When it comes to advocacy work, I learned the importance of amplifying voices and knowing when and how to collaborate with people whose lived experiences you are intending to support.

Mia: I learned a lot about my leadership style and how to balance the needs of the project and the needs of my team.

Areli: I think the biggest lesson I learned is that everyone deserves the opportunity to live, learn, work, and play in their community. This was something I learned at the CDHD. I didn't realize how valuable those words are especially for people with disabilities.

Ernesto: The biggest lesson I learned is that improvisation is part of art! I took over the role as coordinator during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic required everyone to adapt quickly to new circumstances. I think it forced me to embrace difficult situations to stimulate creativity.

How did this role enrich your time at the CDHD/University of Idaho?

Mia: It prepared me for my current job more than any class I ever had to take during school. Learning how to coordinate people, events and budget a project prepared me to be a working professional. At my current job, I buy art from local artists to sell in the store I work at. I also coordinate service projects for our staff to participate in. artAbility ended up being the perfect steppingstone for my current position, which I love very dearly.

Areli: It helped me form valuable relationships with staff, coworkers, and other community members. I was able to meet many people and gain knowledge from their expertise and experiences that I can apply to my personal life and future career.

Ashley: It taught me so many skills! I was empowered to make decisions, learn from those choices in a safe environment, and received so much coaching and mentorship that I gained a lot of confidence in my ability to coordinate a project and work with people from diverse backgrounds.

Ernesto: Working as the Project Coordinator enriched my time both at CDHD and the University of Idaho by giving me a sense of community and purpose. Organizing with people for workshops gave me a sense of belonging and benefiting my community, which I think is essential especially for college students to have a fulfilling experience away from home. I also developed leadership skills and perspectives that helped shape the person I am today.

Two photos: On the left, a black and white group photo from the 2023 Showcase. All the trainees are smiling and posing for the camera. On the right, a workshop participant smiles and crumples tissue paper for his artwork.

What do you think is the greatest attribute or strength that you gained from working in this role?

Areli: The greatest strength I gained was leadership skills. Before taking on this role, I never felt confident enough to take charge. Especially on a project. I thought applying for this job would be a great challenge for myself and get me out of my comfort zone. I learned a lot, and I feel confident enough to take on another project in the near future after I graduate.

Ashley: I think the most unique skill and strength that I gained from working in this role was the understanding of how important it is to ensure representation is present at as many stages of a decision-making process as possible. You might call this advocacy, harm-reduction, equity or inclusion.

What it really taught me is how to regularly ask questions such as “Who is this service/product/project serving? Who will be designing the means to offer it? Is the intended audience also involved in the creation/delivery? How will this (positively or negatively) impact the user?” and “Regardless of the intended audience, how can this be made universally accessible for all?”.

Ernesto: I gained and built many skills during my time as Coordinator. I would say the most useful skill I have gained is my ability to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds. This is a skill that has been valuable for me as I began the patient-facing side of my clinical work for my graduate program. It has also allowed me to discuss concerns of intellectual and developmental disability with patients and their parents with a less medical perspective to help combat stigma about disability.

Mia: I learned a lot about my personal strengths and weaknesses with organization. Those lessons helped me learn how to work with my leadership style in an efficient and effective way. I also learned a lot about how to motivate people, especially volunteers.

This role definitely helped my communication and organization skills more than anything else. Where I am now, those attributes are considered my strengths in my current position.

Three photos: On the left, a black and white photo of Hannah Jehn speaking into a microphone with the help of an older woman. In the middle, Kenyon leans toward the camera with a silly look on her face. On the right, an artAbility participant draws a picture on cardboard with pastels.

What is your favorite artAbility memory?

Ashley: There are so many fond memories! One that comes to mind is how we had this one participant who was cranking out tons of creations each workshop yet was never ready to leave by the time the workshop had concluded. She would just keep working away and chatting with the instructor and volunteers (often cracking jokes and making us laugh) as we cleaned up around her.

My favorite memories often involve the camaraderie that was felt with and among the participants. I can’t remember all the jokes and stories we exchanged, but I can easily remember the smiles, warm eyes and big hugs as we greeted each other each time.

Mia: During our cardboard and charcoal workshop, we had one participant who was determined to replicate a picture of a skyscraper on a long piece of cardboard. He spent nearly the entire workshop series totally focused on this one project. He asked for feedback and ideas, and ended up creating a beautiful pop art style piece that was teal and bright orange.

He was mulling over a few different titles, and I told him it reminded me of a tarot card. He asked the meaning, and after we talked about it, he settled on the name “The Reverse Tower.” As soon as I put it in a frame, I knew I needed it. It’s still hanging in my house!

Ernesto: My favorite memory from artAbility is the first time I met Kenyon as a volunteer. Kenyon told me about her family and relatives, and I remember being confused at first. But she made sure I was clear on who her family was. She is always kind and a joy to be around.

Areli: The very first artAbility workshop that I instructed alongside Sukha Worob. This was a really fun workshop where participants were introduced to cyanotype. It was the first time I was able to interact with individuals with disabilities, and it was nice seeing CDHD staff involved. It was a beautiful day, and it was so cool seeing everyone's negative prints they created.

Two photos: On the left, Areli and Olivia are hanging up an artAbility 2022 Showcase sign and smiling at the camera. On the left, Areli is describing some artwork to Dean Blevins at the 2023 artAbility Showcase.

Do you keep up with what is going on with artAbility? If so, what do you see as the greatest accomplishments since your time as Project Coordinator?

Ashley: Occasionally! It’s fun to peruse project updates year to year and learn what kind of workshops are being offered now. Art takes many forms, so I’m always pleased to see how the project coordinators expand the type of workshops offered (eg poetry, Nimiipuu Drumstick Making, self portraits, cyanotype prints, etc).

Ernesto: I typically keep up with artAbility through Instagram. I usually do not use social media very much so seeing posts on Instagram keep me updated. And I appreciate the updates because it is nice to see that there are still young people interested in the work done at CDHD.

The biggest accomplishments I have seen are the artAbility Showcases! I know how much work goes into organizing them and helping them become a reality! It brings me joy to think that the project continues to bring people together in the community to celebrate diversity and art in this way. I have not seen many other projects that can offer the type of engagement that artAbility does.

Mia: Every once in a while, I go to the website to check out the newest workshops! Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to attend a Showcase since I left Moscow. I was deeply impressed with the virtual Showcase that was presented during lockdown. I thought it was incredibly resourceful and clever.

Two photos: On the left, a black and white photo of a student support person helping an artAbility participant plan out their artwork. On the right, Mia is helping an artAbility participant with her artwork by showing her a technique with pastels.

Do you have a message that you’d like to pass on to participants or a message about the Project to celebrate 10 years of artAbility?

Areli: I appreciate all participants' creativity and willingness to learn new ways of creating art. All the participants are great artists, and I am really happy they’ve had the opportunity to display their artwork to the community and others for 10 years.

Ernesto: From the people who help organize artAbility to everyone who participates in the workshops, artAbility is what it is because of everyone involved! artAbility will always be a meaningful chapter in my life and I hope that it continues to enrich people’s lives for years to come.

Mia: Keep up the amazing work!

Ashley: To the participants – I hope artAbility continues to give you an outlet that serves your creative needs.

And overall – I hope the spirit of creativity and community continues to live on through the project. The heart of artAbility is about connecting community and making creative expression accessible for all.