I walked into a room a-buzz with activity and was immediately and simultaneously hugged, asked my name, invited to participate in a group project and introduced to a man whose daily attire is a walking art installation. A kaleidoscope of exhibits and display nooks references a year’s worth of proof that making art enriches lives of adults with developmental disabilities.
I’m at the Noble of Indiana East facility, near 21st and Shadeland. Therapeutic art specialist Kate Wagner, a Herron-trained studio artist, is assisting artists working on paintings, collages, structures of wood and fabric art. Wagner responds to a request for help yet she “doesn’t stand in the way of creativity … It’s kind of a buffet,” Wagner explains. “We put materials out and Noble artists know what they want to see. It’s a form of adaptive art.”
Michael R. Howland, Noble’s chief executive officer, describes this newest thrust of the 54-year-old organization as an extension of the initial goals “to provide each person we serve with the hope, help and opportunity to turn their dreams into reality and to inspire the community to recognize, embrace and include the contributions of individuals with disabilities.
“We started art to give participants more choices at the four centers. Kathy goes to each on a regular schedule. In a short time we saw incredible things. Individuals who did not communicate in other ways were communicating through art. Talent surfaced, blossomed. No one had been aware of the artistic abilities these individuals possessed. There are some things we can’t quantify — the growing levels of independence, self-esteem, group support and smiles where there weren’t any before.
“For the first art competition we had 15 entries. Participants peer judged for best of show and runners up. Now it’s hundreds of entries.”
Noble artists have emerged from Noble centers to be a part of the 2007 Broad Ripple Art Fair, where they were named “Best Cultural Booth,” and to be hung in multiple Starbucks, at the City-County Building, Artsgarden, Alcatraz Brewing Company at Circle Centre and now in the permanent collection at the historic headquarters of Gregory & Appel Insurance at 1402 N. Capitol.
“You Are You: Sing of Loving, Helping & Understanding” represents a collaboration of 35 Noble participants “convey[ing] what life is like … through the eyes of a person with a disability.”
This large piece hangs within view of an equally provocative work by renowned painter Walter Knabe.
On view, too, are Noble artist works originally on display at Alcatraz — “Midnight Dream,” an acrylic painting by Shauna Perry; “Let the Sun Shine,” an acrylic by David Batt; and a multimedia mural, “Love, Memories, Creativity” by Cheryl Wright, Lisa Thacker, Kathy King and Johnny Brand, hung in custom built frames designed by Dan Appel, whose hobby is woodworking.
“A hundred people came to the reception here on June 14,” reported Appel, president of Gregory & Appel, during my recent visit to the insurance company’s restored 1919 building that originally housed the HCS (Harry C. Stutz) Motor Company.
“Maxwell Anderson from the [Indianapolis Museum of Art] spoke profoundly about the meaning of art, of the importance of art not just being museum art, but as making art relevant to community.
“My dream would be to make Noble art part of the Indianapolis art scene, as a slice of the larger pie, wherever it is that that slice belongs, so as to have people experience the work of artists with disabilities right along with that of mainstream artists. Noble reminds us that art has the same impact on people without disabilities. We need the Noble program in every classroom. It seems obvious as an investment,” stated Appel, who is a member of the boards of Noble of Indiana, Arts Council of Indianapolis and the IMA.
Community collaboration has been part of the Noble experience since its founding in 1953 by Frank Scherrer, an Indianapolis businessman, and Rabbi Maurice Goldblatt of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. They “refused to accept the public schools’ claim that children with IQs below 50 were not educable.”
Programming now includes children’s services, center for family leadership, day services, person-centered planning, respite care, supported employment, Noble Industries and an expanding program of therapeutic arts.
Log on to www.nobleofindiana.org for more information.