Constance Alexander: Mosaic garden project helps ensure that adults with disabilities are not overlooked

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Debi Henry Danielson places a box of 3 by 6-inch blocks on the table and says, “I can’t wait to start piecing it together.”

Neither can her volunteers from Murray’s WATCH Inc., a local organization that assists adults with disabilities in becoming fully integrated into the community. They are working on pieces of a community mosaic — a garden of sorts — that will be on permanent display outside the Murray Art Guild, once all the individual tiles are in place.

Last week, the WATCH group painted blocks sky blue. This week, sitting at tables sheathed with paint-stained plastic, they will add their own personal flourishes of pattern and design. To get started, each one gets a brush, a can of water, and a paper plate with three clumps of paint – dark blue, light blue, and gold. Rubber gloves are optional.

“You can do anything you want,” Debi tells them, but they have already begun to make art.

Jared prefers horizontal yellow lines on his block. Belinda adds a smile to the cheerful sun she has just painted. Another participant creates a dreamy landscape of blurred blues with an occasional swirl of yellow.

Some of the artists are quick, while others take their time. The room hums with positive energy. For background music, Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” fades into Johnny Cash and “Heart of Gold.” Reportedly, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” comes up soon on the Spotify playlist.

The community mosaic is one component of a year-long project funded through an Arts Access Grant from the Kentucky Arts Council to the Murray-Calloway County Endowment for Health Care. The focus of the grant is to create arts-related opportunities for adults with disabilities, and the Murray Art Guild is one of the partners in the project.

Executive Director Debi Danielson’s vision for the Guild’s participation is to design a garden-themed mosaic from weather-proof material, and invite adults with disabilities to prepare individual tiles that will combine to make a community garden that blooms year ‘round.

The mural will be 12 x 8 feet, composed of individual pieces that Murray Lumber cut to the various sizes needed. Ms. Danielson and an assistant laid out the whole thing before the actual painting began, painstakingly marking each block on the back to indicate the base color that has to be applied first. Green is for grass and blue is sky. Flowers will blossom against a background of orange, yellow or red.

Since late in May, groups of individuals from WATCH have been at the Art Guild Thursday mornings. During those sessions, Danielson is a constant presence, offering assistance, encouragement, and professional feedback. She coaches one participant to create his own green by blending blue and yellow. When he uses thick layers of paint on his tile, she points out that this technique is called impasto, and the artist grins and repeats the word.

On the other side of the table, Chris holds up his creation for inspection. He smiles broadly when Debi remarks that his work reminds her of the renowned twentieth century artist, Josef Albers. “It’s those colors with the soft edging,” she explains.

As individual blue tiles are decorated and placed on the table to dry, a fantastic panorama begins to take shape. Each one is a world inside of a bigger world, but it is too early to tell what the final mosaic will look like.

“Sometimes you have to give chance a chance,” Danielson says as she views the morning’s work. “We got about a quarter of the sky done today.”

When some of the artists want to take their work home, they are reminded that once the whole mosaic is done and installed, they can stop by whenever they want to show family and friends the pieces they created.

The Thursday morning sessions will continue for a few more weeks, with a visit or two to the local Farmers Market on Saturday mornings to get more of the community involved and aware of the unique effort.

The Arts Access Assistance Grant was made possible through the Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, which is supported by state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

According to Keith Travis, Vice President of Development for Murray-Calloway County Endowment for Health Care, grant activities address an underserved population.

“The community has been pro-active in recognizing the needs of children with disabilities,” he said, “but we can do better to ensure that adults with disabilities are not overlooked.”

“The arts are a model for inclusion, and an important factor in a community’s overall health,” he continued, “but without safe and convenient access, people with disabilities may encounter barriers that make their participation difficult.”

For information about the Murray-Calloway County Endowment for Health Care contact Keith Travis at 270-762-1908. Visit www.MCCHEndowment.org, or email Travis at ktravis@murrayhospital.org.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at Calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit her website.

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