The Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services attended our February 17 opening of Land Connections – our first accessible art exhibition – and documented the event with this mini doc.

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Land Connections Exhibition A Success!

What if you never knew your child could create such beautiful art? What if you have never seen your kids participate in painting, sculpting and designing? What if your first time witnessing their talent in the raw was at a nationally-renowned art gallery in the heart of historic Kleinburg?

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Some masterpieces were displayed in a glass case.

That’s what many parents experienced at our special exhibition opening of Land Connections. On Sunday, February 17, artists from Connect, our City of Vaughan partnership program, viewed their pieces on display inside Founder’s Lounge. The paintings inspired by A.Y. Jackson’s Bent Pine glowed underneath spotlights that shone on every stroke of acrylic paint, piece of clay and leaf applique.

(from left to right) art instructor Anna Pallotta with City of Vaughan staff Vanessa L. and Vanessa A. with artist Alexander Miceli

(from left to right) art instructor Anna Pallotta with City of Vaughan staff Vanessa L. and Vanessa A. with artist Alexander Miceli

 IMG_3506Family members, friends and support workers were astonished at the works, moving around every corner of the room until every multimedia piece was viewed. Some stopped to look at the artworks, pondering and examining every earthy colour and intricate technique – just like they would at our previous exhibition, Painting Canada.

A digital media team from the Ministry of Community and Social Services were also present, as they filmed a very special segment for the AccessON YouTube series, Accessibility in Ontario.

Keep your eyes and ears out for the McMichael on the AccessON channel, where Connect artists Hazel and Sabrina will share some insight on their masterpieces and the power of accessible art.

Celebrate accessible art with Land Connections, a special community exhibition

 The McMichael Canadian Art Collection and City of Vaughan Recreation & Culture
cordially invite you to celebrate:

Land Connections
on Sunday, February 17, 2013
at 12:30 p.m.

During fall 2012, the McMichael designed an accessible art program led by a professional instructor that is inclusive for individual abilities. Inspired by A.Y. Jackson’s painting, Bent Pine, four art workshops were incorporated in the November 2012 session of Vaughan Recreation and Culture’s Connect program for children living with special needs. Based on exploration of texturized landscape reproductions, small acrylic copies and natural materials such as pine needles and tree bark, the participants offered their own personal interpretation of the subject in a three-dimensional collage medium.

A true sensory experience of painting and modelling, Land Connections is not only a celebration of definitive Canadian art, but the creative abilities of its participants and fulfilling artistic process.

The exhibition will be on view at the McMichael in the Founders’ Lounge from February 2 to 24, 2013.

Creating tissue paper clouds


Kool Holidays: Watercolours in a winter wonderland

The last day of 2012 was celebrated with seasonal art by members of City of Vaughan’s special needs programming at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. On Monday, December 31, eight participants gathered at Pine Cottage, where art instructor Anna Pallotta led a free-flowing art lesson inspired by the natural landscape of the McMichael grounds.


Working on nature rubbings and doodles at Pine Cottage.

Participants settled in by creating oil pastel rubbings of leaves, pine needles and branches on paper. Pallotta distributed a modified tool of a three dimensional, round crayon that is easy to grasp. There was an array of colours to choose from, which gave the participants creative freedom rather than being restricted to a standard palette of earthy tones.

The Kool Holidays group on a walk

The Kool Holidays group takes a stroll.

With reference to informative pictorial books on trees, Pallotta used large scale photographs as examples of what lines and shapes could be drawn to represent such a grand element of nature.


References from a nature book inspired the group to create interpretive drawings.


One artist sketches his tree with bold lines.

Using green, black and brown oil pastels, participants sketched elaborate trees in unique interpretations. Some were solitary, occupying the entire sheet of paper, others short and thin, in several rows, with broad, intertwining branches. Youth volunteers known as Leisure Buddies joined in the process as well, creating their own interpretive works.


Earthy, forest green oil pastels.


A City of Vaughan Leisure Buddy at work.

Particpants proceeded to paint their canvas sheets with blue and red watercolours. They were given free reign with each and every stroke of the brush. Horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines of colour spread across each tree, painting a moody, atmospheric background.


CONNECT artist Hazel created a colourful, intricate piece at Kool Holidays.



Participants Sabrina and Jenna created wonderful works that contrasted in colour but connected in creativity.

Immediately after the paint was applied, Pallotta instructed participants to spread layers of rock salt on top of the paper. The damp element of the paint activated the salt to create a stain on the material. When dry, the salt gives the paper a tactile texture and looks like snow.


Anna Pallotta instructs the group on the application of rock salt.

Vanessa Amodio, a senior assistant within the special needs programming at the City of Vaughan, supervised the participants. Her main highlight of the group activity was the use of specific materials.


Rock salt isn’t just for the driveway – it’s a fun way to texturize art!

“I enjoyed the activities the children took part in,” Amodio said. “I liked how tactile art supplies like salt and leaves were available to work with.”

After laying the paintings on a rack to dry, the group bundled up with coats, hats and gloves to walk to the main gallery for a tour of Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. The group was intrigued by the exhibit and overall grand scheme of the gallery. The exhibit is organized by season, in order of spring, summer, winter and fall. From Tom Thomson’s Jack Pine, (c.1916-1917) to Lawren Harris’ 1930 definitive piece, Icebergs, Davis Strait, each gallery is dominated by colours associated with weather and scenic landscape.


Colour, line and shape defined by natural elements.

Many participants made thoughtful connections to colours and shapes utilized in each piece. Returning participants from CONNECT, Jenna and Sabrina said that the gradient summer sunsets in Arthur Lismer’s Evening Silhouette, (c. 1926) reminded them of “the famous scene of Simba and Rafiki in Disney’s The Lion King.”

Although most participants could follow the gallery tour, some transitioned to spaces at a different pace, which became challenging. Amodio says that “some participants didn’t want to follow the group,” but it was easy to make sure all were monitored by staff members.

“Most of us had to split up to accommodate this, but we were well-equipped to handle this as we had lots of support staff,” she says of her two assistants and four Leisure Buddies.

The amount of staff present at the McMichael supported the simple transition that followed. Pallotta offered to accompany any members that wished to continue throughout the gallery, as some were curious about other exhibits such as the permanent collection of Inuit art. Others wished to get some fresh air, and were given the opportunity to roam clean, accessible pathways surrounded by snowfall and birch trees under assistant supervision.



Beautiful work inside Pine Cottage.

As 12:00 p.m. rolled around, the half-way mark to 2013 concluded Kool Holidays. Parents picked up their children and were in awe of what they had completed that morning. The group members hugged their friends and City of Vaughan staff with positive wishes for the New Year. Their tree sketches and nature rubbing works were a great way to celebrate “branching out” in 2012 and into another year filled with more inclusion, acceptance, accessibility and connection through art.

Be sure to check out Land Connections; an exhibit of 15 multimedia art pieces by members of CONNECT that will be on display at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection from Saturday, February 2 to Sunday, February 24, 2013


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