Inclusive art at CONNECT

The City of Vaughan offers numerous programs for individuals with disabilities at many of their community outposts. Every Saturday, a group of up to twenty youth gather at Maple Community Centre from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for fun-filled days of various activities.

Aptly titled CONNECT, the program hosts participants with various accessibility issues, developmental and cognitive disabilities that work together in a non-judgmental, accessible space. The City of Vaughan began a partnership with the McMichael Canadian Art Collection on November 3, 2012, to launch the project “Land Connections.” Instructor, Anna Pallotta, designed the program and taught the group how to begin their painting, using mixed media and many materials. The concept was heavily inspired from “Bent Pine,” by A.Y. Jackson, a member of the Group of Seven.

A.Y. Jackson's "Bent Pine"

A.Y. Jackson (1882 – 1974), Bent Pine, 1948, oil on canvas, 81.3 x 102 cm, Gift of Mrs. N.D. Young, 1971.6


Colour pre-cut cloud appliqués with oil pastel and watercolour paint.
Begin to cover bottom portion of canvas with gesso.

Continue with gesso application and outline sky/wind patterns in white paint.
Draw tree branches and colour with shades of green oil pastel.

Paint over tree branches and create texture layers with modified chopstick tool.
Using real leaves, paint and apply to board in earthy colours.

Complete nature scene by adding all separate appliqués to canvas.
Using sand paint, add texture to the ground.

Tactile materials - a gift from nature

Tactile materials – a gift from nature

Abstract acrylic on leaves

Pallotta included this bonus activity. With found objects, artists made their very own winter scene.

Pallotta included this bonus activity. With found objects, artists made their very own winter scene.

Pallotta included a bonus activity of creating pine cone forest scenes on tree bark. Many were excited about the additional art activity.


CONNECT Integration Counselor, Stephanie Sansoro, said that “members of the group carried enthusiasm home with them,” telling their parents upon pick-up of their artistic afternoon.

“Everyone had a great time,” she said. “All participants chose a specific aspect they enjoyed.”

A participant paints flowy, green branches.

A participant paints flowy, green branches.

The process of making art in a group setting like CONNECT has many benefits. With Land Connections, participants associated their work with the seasons, their surroundings and perspective. Although each individual completed the same task, they added their own spin through different lines, shapes, colours and textures.

The painting collection from Land Connections is ultimately unique, reflective of each artist’s personality. Sansoro believes that process art is beneficial because it removes criticism, comparison and isolation.

 “They had their own interpretations,” she said of the influence of Jackson’s work. “With this project, everyone could succeed.”


Hazel working with art instructor Anna Pallotta

One CONNECT artist, Hazel, had a prolific association between her work and the world around her. She represented “the start of a new day” by painting the sky blue with hints of white to reflect snow. But her main interpretation of this theme was derived from a daily news source. 

“The brand new day reminds me of the news, like CP24,” Hazel said of the cityscape footage sprawled across the screen in between stock market updates, weather and buzz-worthy events.

Hazel utilized great creative energy in Land Connections

Hazel utilized great creative energy in Land Connections

Hazel working on her piece

Hazel has applied an everyday sight, memory or practice (watching the daily news) into her artwork with immense creativity. Yazmin, one of her peers, was just as enthusiastic, exclaiming, “That’s cool!” when Pallotta brought out pliable “Play Clay” to shape elements on canvas.

Artist Marco working with modeling clay

By introducing new materials, participants maintained interest in Pallotta’s attention to detail and her fun, instructional methods.

Creating tissue paper clouds

Creating tissue paper clouds

“Art is a vehicle for expression and communication of emotions and ideas,” Pallotta said of its universal benefit. “It is also a sensory experience that is emotionally rewarding and a powerful catalyst for encouraging greater connection with the world.”

Artist Julian painting trees with a vibrant fall pallette

Artist Julian painting trees with a vibrant fall pallette

During each Saturday session, Sansoro maintained a positive attitude when a participant became distracted or impatient. At first, the counselor was weary of the two-hour art time incorporated with CONNECT, but felt that the short breaks in between tasks allowed participants to be “more engaged” upon their return.

One of the modified paint brushes designed by Pallotta

A “student-focused” educator, Pallotta ensured that all planning and instruction was based on the needs and abilities of each participant. Thickness of paint, colour choices, handling, application, paint brush size and shapes were some of the variables Pallotta considered before each session. With these concerns, the instructor has developed a modified tool to operate a paint brush for those with muscular or mobility issues.

Pallotta instructing the group

Pallotta instructing the group

The art instructor was able to accommodate the group with innovative tools. Not only was it rewarding for the group to see the end product of their hard work, but for Pallotta, who witnessed her pupils in their enhanced sense of autonomy.

Working together

Working together

“They initiated conversations, asked questions, laughed and joked with me at my foibles, and were consistently, sincerely engaged in the whole process,” she said. “I feel like I succeeded in making the experience accessible for each participant.”

CONNECTing with A.Y. Jackson

CONNECTing with A.Y. Jackson

Land Connections is an exhibit of 15 multimedia art pieces and will be on display at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection from Saturday, February 2 to Sunday, February 24, 2013.  

For more information on the exhibit, visit:

Painting accessibility doesn’t stop here – CONNECT will continue on April 6, 2013 through June 1, 2013 at the Maple Community Centre.

Register at: Recenroll Vaughan



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