Art program for people living with intellectual disabilities promotes inclusion and social connection.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In the basement of artist Shirley Levacy’s Winnipeg home, the Great Blue Art Studio is abuzz with creative energy and conversation. Led by Shirley’s enthusiastic suggestions, three teens are painting together.
Katie is a bright, outgoing girl who has taken art classes with Shirley since she was a young girl. It’s where she met Avery and Dominic — two teens living with intellectual disabilities.
Although reserved in her interactions, Avery is quick to share ideas in answer to Shirley’s engaging nature. And while Dominic is precise and focused on his work, he regularly exchanges smiles and laughter with Katie.
“They are learning to connect with other youth,” Shirley says. “The art has become a tool for communication.”
Art Among Friends is one of about a dozen programs for people living with intellectual disabiliites, creating opportunities for young people of all abilities to socialize, collaborate and express themselves. And it wouldn’t be possible without United Way Winnipeg’s investment in Inclusion Winnipeg. The agency receives core, sustained funding it can rely on to plan and innovate with programs like this one, all thanks to donations to the annual campaign.
The impact of this support can be seen in the faces of participants: kids who may never have met their kindred spirits, or discovered a love of art, had it not been for this program.
“Sometimes people living with intellectual disabilities aren’t included in a group,” says Avery’s mom Carla. “Here, Avery feels she is part of an art community and feeling part of something is so important. It gives her a sense of self-worth and purpose.”
Dominic’s mom Rachelle echoes the sentiment. “These art classes allow Dominic to learn, to excel and create beautiful art pieces in a safe, positive, fun and inclusive environment.”
For Avery, Dominic and Katie, art is also a tool for kids to be all they can be. And with help from their parents, who’ve formed friendships of their own, Avery and Dominic have been selling their prints—an added source of pride as well as income.