Flora and fauna for accessible success

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is EnAbling Change. What does that mean? Well, the art gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario, with support from the Government of Ontario, is making their programming more accessible for people with disabilities. Whether it is mental, learning or physical, individuals will have customized access to Canadian art and programs that engage them in creativity and exploration.

Our first special needs family art program pilot, the Tree Project, on March 27, 2012, was a success. Members of Autism Ontario, York Region chapter experienced the Tagore-inspired art program.

On Saturday, August 25, 2012, Autism Ontario members returned for our second family art program, Garden of Arts and Delights. Attendees toured the bronze Sculpture Garden on an exclusive nature walk, experiencing natural sights and textures of their surroundings. The walk was led on a fully accessible path where participants collected leaves and other found objects that inspired abstract oil pastel sketches.

The first activity was held outside at picnic tables under a canopy of towering trees. The weather was warm with a soft breeze and all participants remained focused. Instructor Anna Pallotta guided watercolour paintings that followed the pastel sketches. Participants were flowing with creativity as parents requested more sheets of paper as painting after painting lay on the grass to dry.

Later, participants produced art pieces with colourful modeling clay, to create a nature scene inspired by their walk. Inside the Pine Cottage classroom, multimedia artwork of fabric, string and paper were completed. Attendee James Everest created a scene of a squirrel perched on a tree branch.

The program was a family affair as siblings of the participants were inclusive and encouraging in each activity. Heidi Hitchmough, Vice President of Autism Ontario, York Region chapter, said that her son, Cody, showed a heightened interest in art.

Cody Hitchmough shows off his oil pastel masterpiece with mother, Heidi.

“I love seeing Cody being able to do this,” she says of his oil pastel sketch. “Usually he doesn’t like doing art, but up here (at the McMichael) he loves it. This is a very unique program.”

Every participant concluded that instructions were clear and concise. As an art instructor, Pallotta believes that the “magic of nature” brings tranquility to individuals with disabilities. In this case, the participants with autism were drawn to creating something to share with others, displaying their abilities and producing artwork in a foreign, yet free, environment.

Tony Everest, a member of Autism Ontario, York Region chapter, attended with his son James. The father and son participate in a wide range of activities, including concerts and swimming, which are mostly indoor. He appreciated the format of Garden of Arts and Delights for its refreshing setting.

Working on a multimedia art activity, James Everest uses a variety of materials to depict a nature scene.

“Outdoor events are a rarity,” Everest said. “So, quiet events like this are quite nice.”

October is Autism Awareness Month. The McMichael continues its partnership with Autism Ontario – York Region chapter to host its third Special Needs Family Art Program, Colour My World, on Saturday October 20, 2012.

Registration is required. For more details, please visit: http://mcmichael.com/apps/index.cfm?page=program.detail&programEventId=713&areaId=7

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