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Groups unite to help people with disabilities
HOUSTON -- When Chickasaw County Extension director Scott Cagle brought Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers to Starkville, they were amazed by the services and artwork they saw at the T.K. Martin Center at Mississippi State University.
On the drive home, the group decided their community needed to learn about the center, which connects people with disabilities with assistive technologies.
JoAnne Blue, president of the Chickasaw County MHV Clubs, said the group was impressed by the art created by T.K. Martin Center clients in the “EXPRESS Yourself” program, which stands for EXperiencing Painting as Recreation and Express the Spirit within Yourself.
Blue and other MHV members were fascinated by the center’s techniques for giving individuals with severe disabilities opportunities to create art. To paint, artists who are physically challenged are paired with trackers, who follow laser-guided tracking and other exacting technologies to act as neutral “arms.”
“We wanted to provide the opportunity to show the abilities of these special artists,” Blue said.
Cagle knew the perfect place and groups to involve.
“Chickasaw County Master Gardeners and our Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers look for opportunities to share with the community, and they wanted to host an art event in the Houston Garden Park,” Cagle said. “The Master Gardeners led in the development of the park, but the entire community took part in the work. Now, it’s a great place for events like this art exhibition. Our local MSU Alumni Association also was eager to promote the program.”
The event brought newcomers to the park to see the artwork and learn about the T.K. Martin Center. Several purchased items created by the artists.
For Candace Stephenson of Ackerman, an “EXPRESS Yourself” artist, the program is about much more than art; it’s about relationships.
“None of us knew about art before we got involved in the program, but we also didn’t have all these friendships,” she said. “The art is just a bonus.”
Stephenson expressed regret that a funding shortage is not only limiting art supplies but is also limiting access to friendships.
Judy Duncan, the case manager at the T.K. Martin Center and a tracker for the program, said in addition to a small grant from Mississippi Arts Commission, the program relies on funding from sales of paintings, notecards and prints.
“Money generated from events like this one in Houston go back into the program for supplies and other needs,” Duncan said. “We would love for this Chickasaw County event to become an annual event.”
Duncan said art from the program is on display throughout the workweek in the Martha Lipsey Gallery at the T.K. Martin Center.
For more information about the center or to view the “EXPRESS Yourself” online gallery, go online to http://www.tkmartin.msstate.edu.