“Art is a Human Right for Everybody”: Works from Open Hearts Art Center
March 18—April 1, 2016
Second Floor Gallery, Owen Hall, UNC Asheville
Opening Reception: Friday, March 18, 5:00-7:00 p.m.
April 27—May 15, 2016
Project Space at REVOLVE and Orange Space at Cotton Mills Studios, River Arts District, Asheville
Free and Open to the Public
I would say that not just me, but everybody is an artist. You can look for the definition of an artist. There are many. I tried to find one and I came to the conclusion that an artist is a person that knows how to live. Not that you are just very skilled making a product. Even when you prepare your breakfast, you can be an artist at breakfast. Or, you have a very good friend, you can be an artist as a friend too. Everything in life you can put your art. So if that is true, I am an artist…I think it [art] is a human right for everybody. Everybody’s supposed to do art.
—Jose, artist at Open Hearts Art Center
Society often regards those with disabilities to be less capable of having creative capacities and social relationships. Open Hearts Art Center (OHAC), a nonprofit organization in Asheville, North Carolina, seeks to change that perception and empower individuals with intellectual disabilities to create works of art. Established in 2005, OHAC serves forty-five artists in the Western North Carolina region. OHAC is a place where artistic expression blends with habilitative care. The artists of OHAC work primarily in a group setting, which not only aids in the development of social skills, but also helps to support an artistic community. Artists attend classes ranging from painting and sculpture, to dance, music, and songwriting. They also have the option to sell their work in the community through a variety of venues.
“Art is a Human Right for Everybody” is the culmination of Hannah Wiepke’s yearlong internship experience at Open Hearts Art Center coupled with undergraduate research on curatorial best practices. Her project, a curated public exhibition and website, challenges the pervasive medical model that frames disability and furthers a meaningful examination of artwork created by the OHAC community through narratives gleaned from artists’ interviews and audience feedback. The exhibition originates at UNC Asheville and travels to Project Space at REVOLVE and Orange Space at the Cotton Mill Studios in the River Arts District in Asheville.
This project is sponsored by Curatoria, an interdisciplinary collective of UNC Asheville students, faculty, and other scholars dedicated to cultivating and supporting innovative approaches to displaying and interpreting visual culture. Programming developed by Curatoria reflects student and educator-driven subjects that are studied intently and deeply, with the goal of fostering intelligent empathizers and meaning-makers in participants and audiences. The collective seeks to explore and experiment with different strategies for bringing visual culture to audiences by attending to both problematizing the content deemed as appropriate to art venues and to rethinking the ways in which works are typically curated. While crossing disciplinary lines, Curatoria’s projects also strive to promote collaborations with diverse Asheville communities, thereby moving from theoretical and abstract considerations of these issues to more dynamic, in-field contexts where our pedagogies provide students with real-world problem solving.
2015-2016 Curatoria Collective:
Dr. Leisa Rundquist, Chair, Dept. of Art and Art History; Faculty Mentor
Dr. Karin Peterson, Chair, Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology; Faculty Mentor
Hannah Wiepke, Art History major/Religious Studies & Spanish minor; Curator and Project Coordinator
Savannah Purdy, Sociology major
Erin Daniell, Anthropology major/Art minor
Community and UNC Asheville Partners:
Sonia Pitts, Director, Open Hearts Art Center
Debbie Harris, Director of Arts and Events, Open Hearts Art Center
Salley Williamson, Lead Art Teacher, Open Hearts Art Center
Marshall Hammer, Videographer, Open Hearts Art Center
The artists from Open Hearts Art Center
Colby Caldwell, Director, Project Space at REVOLVE, Asheville
Pat and John Horrocks, Owners, Blackbird Frame & Art, Asheville
Dr. Heidi Kelley, Professor, Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology
Austin Dowdy, Sociology major/Mass Communication minor
Stephanie Jones-Byrne, Interdisciplinary Studies major
Special thanks to the following individuals who contributed to the project:
Dr. Ann-Millett Gallant, Disability Studies scholar and Lecturer in Art and Humanities, UNC Greensboro
Stephanie Moore, Executive Director, Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design and former Director of Visual Arts (1992-2010) for VSA Arts, an international arts and disability organization
K. Johnson Bowles, Vice President of Advancement, Warren Wilson College and former Director of Longwood Center for the Visual Arts and Assistant Professor of Art, Longwood University (2000-2012)
Polly Medlicott, Co-producer, A New Kind of Listening documentary
Students from ANTH 350 Body, Disability & Culture and ARTH 420 Museum Studies
Exhibition Information: Panels accompany artwork in the gallery (1)
“Open Hearts is a place where you can do art or talk about what you did for the weekend,” states Rob, one of the forty-eight artists that Open Hearts Art Center currently serves. Founded in 2005, Open Hearts Art Center (OHAC) is a nonprofit art center for adults with intellectual disabilities. Artistic expression and habilitative care meet in its workshops and programs that foster creativity and create a safe and encouraging environment for all. The works of OHAC artists range from painting, to sculpture, and embroidery, to writing poetry and songs. Artists work together in a classroom setting and frequently collaborate on projects. Nicole speaks to the participatory and communal nature of OHAC, explaining, “Open Hearts is a lot of people that care about me.”
The mood of OHAC is one that is light and fun: voices rise over the hum of the hair dryer as the residual sounds of Michael Jackson pumps through the speakers in the Drama room. Kathy explains that to her art is “when you do your best,” and that creating quality work means you might make a paycheck. The artists of OHAC are given the opportunity and tools to create works of art to sell in a variety of locations across the community, extending from the walls at Homegrown restaurant to their artist booth at Woolworth Walk in downtown Asheville. Artists receive half of the proceeds when their work sells, while the other half goes towards purchasing more supplies.
Open Hearts Art Center’s presence in the greater Asheville community is much more than just visual works of art—artists are able to go on “Boundless Art” field trips throughout the community, including visiting the Stone Creek Health and Rehabilitation Center every month to perform their original songs for the residents. Their presence in the community is only growing stronger, and perhaps that is why when Rob was asked if he considered himself to be an “artist,” he described himself as “more like a friend.”
Exhibition Information: Panels accompany artwork in the gallery (2)
The work created by the artists of Open Hearts Art Center is “visionary and raw,” and they make their work “without inhibitions,” asserts OHAC Director, Sonia Pitts. Pitts also emphasizes that the work of these artists is based on subjects that they enjoy and are interested in rather than those catering to the viewer. Consequently, images of Dolly Parton, superheroes, and Jesus frequent their creations. Pitts encourages viewers to expand their definition of what an artist can be, trained or untrained, with a disability or without a disability. She explains, “I just want people to come in and see the art and understand that you can be an artist too. You don’t have to be trained; you don’t have to go to some big art school; it just comes from your soul.”
Jose, one of the artists, also echoes the sentiments of Sonia, noting that he has yet to find a definition of an “artist” that he believes encompasses all of its characteristics and traits. For Jose, an artist is a person who “knows how to live,” and that anyone has the potential to be an artist. He declares, “I think it [art] is a human right for everybody. Everybody’s supposed to do art.”