Artists with disabilities display works

Published 2:58 pm Monday, September 8, 2008

The deep blue face of a young woman stares out from its frame hung on the wall of the Shelby County Arts Council.

The work is that of Ashley Raia, a 22-year-old artist with diabetes.

A personal story from Raia hangs just below.

“To me, when I paint, it’s an escape,” Raia said. “An escape that allows me, in the middle of life’s ups and downs, to remember exactly who I am.”

Surrounding Raia’s work is that of artists who share similar stories of physical or mental hardships.

Each also mentions the joy, and often release, they found through art.

This collection of art came to the arts council through two VSA signature exhibitions: Creativity –– Art in the Magic City and CreativeFest.

The organization provides art programs for children and adults with disabilities.

Participant Traci Brooks said in her bio that she wants her work to speak to everyone.

“What I want to do is share textured art for all to enjoy, especially the visually impaired,” Brooks said. “I like using very bright colors because I like to show cheer.”

VSA program manager Erin Yustaikis said that’s the idea behind all of the programs VSA sponsors.

“Artwork heals all people, and it communicates with all people,” Yustaikis said. “Many of these artists have gone through a lot, and they have used art as a healing tool.”

Susan Dennis, director of arts and education for the Shelby County Arts Council, said the council felt honored to have the exhibit this month.

“We are excited to have such an important exhibit in our gallery; its next stop is the state capitol,” Dennis said. “It’s also important for us because we just expanded our own art therapy program and this helps promote the, importance of that program as well.”

Artwork from all of the adult participants is on sale for anywhere from $70-$300. Ten percent of those proceeds helps to sustain VSA, while the rest goes to the artist. The exhibit runs through Set. 26. For more information, visit