Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
“HANDICAP, I HEARD ABOUT IT BUT I AIN’T GOT IT NOW” — Rita Langlois
Tucked away on a side street in Brunswick, Maine, is a place called Spindleworks. The bright blue Victorian house is an energetic, eclectic and creative sanctuary for adults with disabilities, expressing the world they see through their unique and imaginative artistic creations.
Magic happens here. Walk into Spindleworks and your senses are filled with color, motion and dimension. This is a happy place. Energy permeates the rooms and is reflected in the faces of the artists as they paint, draw, weave and sculpt, talking of projects they will design and bring to life.
There is a woodshop, a ceramics kiln and a recently added media room where video, animation and sound are in full swing. Several of the artists are skilled weavers, and the fiber arts room reflects vibrant results of their color and texture combinations. I have a beautiful shawl woven by Nancy, displayed on the back of my office chair and perfect for a chilly day. Our home boasts several paintings done by my sister along with an unusual piece of decoupage art on an old 33 rpm record. This art is a colorful testimony to a one-of-a-kind place for some very special people.
Spindleworks Art Center has something for everyone. Several artists are published writers of poetry and stories and many are active participants in the performing arts. My sister is one of them. She has been an artist in residence for almost 12 years. Her works are exhibited at local galleries and she receives 75% of the purchase price when they are sold. Spindleworks is her extended family and home away from home. We cannot imagine her anywhere else.
She has been artistically inspired all her life but it lay buried inside of her until she walked through the doors of this remarkable studio. Her creative interpretations always amaze me. She reminds me often that, “we’re just regular people and we’re artists.” Spindleworks is a gift to her and to our family.
Spindleworks is home to 45 artists who work in a variety of mediums in an environment that celebrates diversity and nurtures the inner light in all of them. Artists are mentored by professional artists on staff, and there is an onsite store and gallery to display and sell their work. They also practice their acting and performance skills at the local Theater Project and partner with near-by cultural resources to expand their repertoire.
Drop in to the Little Dog Coffee Shop or Frontier Café and you will see walls displaying works of Spindleworks artists. Libraries, art walks and craft fairs showcase their art. Open the local newspaper, The Times Record, and you are likely to find a write up of an artist or art event—the town celebrates what these men and women contribute to their local culture. Students from nearby Bowdoin College volunteer at Spindleworks and several have received grants from the school that enable them to work during the summer as full-time artist mentors.
The program is overseen by Elizabeth McGhee—artist, mentor and Super Hero to those of us with family members under her expert direction and heartfelt leadership. The resources she brings to the programs and participants reflect her commitment to excellence and to dispelling the stereotypes that hang from words like “mentally disabled,” “challenged,” and “handicapped.”
I love Spindleworks events. The artists’ pride in their work is exceeded only by their joy at visitors coming to view it. I am warmly welcomed with hugs from Anna, Caroline and Nancy and Kim. Mitch gives me a high five, and Earl a gentle handshake. They remember me—if not by name then as Angela’s sister. They show their work with pride and I am always astonished at how beautiful and unique it is.
How does a place like Spindleworks happen?
It all started with spinning and weaving. Thirty five years ago, Nan Ross, a weaver from Bath, started teaching spinning, weaving, and rug hooking to six men and women from Independence Association, an agency dedicated to community inclusivity for adults with disabilities. Before long she added drawing, painting, printmaking, poetry, dance and clowning. The result was a group of talented people discovering and expressing themselves through art, sharing their lives in words, movement and color and form.
From these beginnings, Spindleworks was born. It is a place where artists tell their stories. There is no other program like it.
In the coming months, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for the developmentally disabled (mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy and mental illness) is proposing a rate restructure. That’s a fancy phrase for taking away funding. I believe it also takes away something else – a quality of life and a level of security that every disabled person has a right to.
The 2015 proposal for funding and services is expected to reduce the current community support rate by 23 percent and the daily average rate for home support by 8 percent, negatively impacting programs and people. People I have met and programs that have changed lives in ways no one imagined 35 years ago.
Today I am lending my blog and my voice in support of the artists and this remarkable organization—appealing for no reduction in services or funding. I am certain there will be justifications for this proposed decrease in support but I want to remind the DHHS that Spindleworks is about what is possible.
I can name 45 good reasons to keep the current funding in place. Find a way.