Artists with disabilities inspire

One of Cathy Crofut's geometric, precise works, showcasing her evolution through CATA. Photo courtesy of www.communityaccesstothearts.org
One of Cathy Crofut’s geometric, precise works, showcasing her evolution through CATA. Photo courtesy of www.communityaccesstothearts.org

Thursday afternoon welcomed one of the most inspiring and admirable of exhibitions to enter the Clark Art Institute. The Stone Hill Center hosted a variety of works produced under the Community Access to Arts (CATA) program by artists with severe physical disabilities. As Executive Director, Margaret Keller put it, CATA’s mission is to “nurture and celebrate the creativity of people with disabilities … providing programs in any genre of arts you can think of.”

Artists, their families, employees of CATA and a sprinkling of College students mingled between the room where the artworks were displayed and the courtyard. All marveled at the quality of the works and the success of the program. Such an exhibition is enabled by the Art Realization Technlogies (A.R.T.) program, whereby the artist wears a laser pointer on his or her head and directs a trained art tracker around the canvas. The tracker will ask questions as to the logistics of the work such as types of materials, size and medium. As Keller stated, the “artist is in the driver’s seat the whole time,…,the tracker is just acting as their physical hands.” The artist then receives 50 percent of the profits when works are sold.

The effects of such a program are mind boggling. The separation of physical and intellectual is, to the say the least, impressive. Myles Tosk, father of an artist, lauded the effects of the program on his son. “It’s just amazing when you think about these individuals with what we consider to be disabilities and they turn around and make this inspiring art which I don’t think I could even make.” Anyone in the room would be hard-pressed to disagree with Tosk. Carol Neuhaus, herself an artist, stated, “It’s been a good experience and I love it. It’s very educational for me and it’s very relaxing. I wish I could do more of it.” Development and Marketing Director, Liana Toscanini commented on Neuhaus’ impressive artistic trajectory through the program. As described by Toscanini, Neuhaus’ first artwork was a copy of a checkerboard quilt and when asked about it Neuhaus responded “I’m a sewer and this is a quilt.” A couple of years later, Neuhaus did what Toscanini praised as a “sweeping, free-form landscape,” reflecting a burgeoning creativity and freedom.

Toscanini has many more stories of similar progress. But she says of all those that she treasures, one stands out the most. Cathy Crofut’s art hung in Toscanini’s home prior to the introduction of the A.R.T. program. Crofut can actually hold a paintbrush, albeit with great difficulty. Without a trained tracker by her side, she created beautiful, yet unintentionally abstract works, but with A.R.T., she was able to render “super exact and amazingly geometric works…She was able to tell a completely different story and was no longer limited by the table on her wheelchair.” As Toscanini commented, “you can see the evolution; an increased sophistication, experimentation and refinement.”

The individual evolutions of the artists are reflective of the greater upwards arc of the program. Toscanini commented to The Berkshire Eagle, that the Clark exhibition was “like the top of a mountain for us. It’s the most comprehensive cultivation we’ve ever done and of course to be in that setting of the Stone Hill Gallery is wonderful for us.” Certainly, the location seemed to be a most fitting and even metaphorical testament to the continuing success of CATA and the artists it enables. As Toscanini most modestly hinted, upholding the program is no easy fiscal feat. To be privy to the products of such admirable dedication and determination was an absolute privilege and pleasure.