Art Abilities creates opportunities

Tully Weston, left, and teacher Allison Festavan put together a noisemaker during an Art Abilities class on May 5, while Roland Burke and Lori Barton create their own noisemaker. (Reporter photo/Christine Boatwright)

 By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer

A group of eight kids sat cross-legged on the floor of a Helena Elementary School classroom while working with teachers and aides to make noisemakers.

The group of special-needs children participate in an art therapy program conducted by the Shelby County Arts Council called Art Abilities, which is funded by a grant from the Shelby County Community Health Foundation. Sixteen Shelby County public schools participate in Art Abilities, and artwork from all 16 schools will be displayed in an exhibit at the Arts Council building in Columbiana from May 11-21.

Terri Sullivan developed the program four years ago at Creekview Elementary. She brought in local artist Jess Marie Walker to coordinate the program, develop the classes and instruct the children through hands-on art projects using a variety of mediums.

Susan Dennis, the Art Council’s director of arts and education, said the art exhibit serves to show the community and the parents of the children how the Arts Council serves the community.

“A lot of people don’t know who we are and what their kids are doing in class,” Dennis said. “This is a sampling of what the kids did.”

Helena Elementary Special education teacher Allison Festavan helps students complete projects during the Art Abilities class.

“We’ve been doing this every Thursday since March,” Festavan said of the class. “They’ve done pottery painting, all kinds of stuff. It’s hands-on experience with different materials they’re not normally exposed to.”

Cheryl Phelps, right, helps Charlie Stinger with his noisemaker. (Reporter photo/Christine Boatwright)

Walker said the Art Abilities sessions specifically help the children with motor skill development, sensory experiences, behavioral, social and cognitive development and tactile familiarity.

“One project covers a lot of different areas,” Walker said.

She said she loves to teach children, and Art Abilities gave her the opportunity to work with both art and children.

“I wanted to do it,” Walker said, speaking of teaching the program.”It feeds my personal creative spirit, and I love to teach children. It helps to be able to be in a classroom and studio as well.”

Ronda Bush brought her son, 6-year-old Langston, to the art exhibit, and the two searched the room for Langston’s creations.

“I love it,” Bush said of the art program. “It’s perfect for him. He’s always so proud of what he makes for us, he even made me open my Mother’s Day present early because he was so excited.”