Art Program Encourages Disabled Adults To Speak Up

Mar 3, 2010

<p><em>Scroll down to see more pictures.</em></p> <p><em>By <a href="mailto:stephanlj@interlochen.org">Linda Stephan</a></em></p> <p>Samir Moubarak sifts through a basket filled with words cut out from magazine headlines.  He pulls out "Drive," "shopping," and "peaceful," and he makes his way back over to the collage he's already started.</p> <p>As Moubarak overlaps words and pictures on his poster board, he talks about his project. These are things that make him happy. The word "peaceful" is in the mix, he says, because he's not the type to pick a fight.</p> <p>"I'm a fun guy once you get to know me," he says to Project Leader Michelle St. Amant, as she works beside him.</p> <p> Because of Moubarak's speech impediment, you have to listen closely to what he says. He's 29 years old and for the first time in his life he's living on his own, in a downtown Traverse City apartment complex. He likes dogs, and shopping, pizza, flowers - and possibility. And you can get all that and more from a quick glance at his first art project for Andre's Place.</p> <p>This is a new program in Traverse City. It was named after St. Amant's autistic son, who died in 2004 at age 18.</p> <p>"I'm an artist and I used to work with Andre with doing art work at home, like we're doing here today," she says. "And it was a really good way for him to express himself because he had some limited verbal skills. And we learned a lot into what his processes were through his art work. He was quite good."</p> <p>Andre's Place is open to people who face any number of challenges, from mental and physical impairments to homelessness, or any need. And the goal is two-fold: to help this crowd communicate through art, and to help others to listen better.</p> <p>"Society has a lot to learn through people with challenge's art work, St. Amant says. She plans to collect the art work produced at Andre's Place and display it for all to see. "They have a lot to say, and they've developed opinions and beliefs of their own through all their experiences, which are very unique, and I really thing society needs to hear through the voice of their art."</p> <p>At the next table, 29-year-old Ryan Volz works on his collage. There's a couple resting on a hammock, a newborn, and a posed family portrait. There are also candles, which he says represents the peace and tranquility of family life.</p> <p>It's not exactly the story of his own life. Volz is single. He says he has defiance disorder, and a hyperactivity disorder. He lives alone in his downtown apartment. He has friends here, but his family lives far away, and he says, growing up, family life was far from peaceful.</p> <p>"My parents were very much older," Volz says. "They were going into their retirement, and then all the sudden here comes this child full of life and hyperactive and defiant and things like this, I don't think that they were really ready for that. </p> <p>"So my life with my parents was very difficult for them. And I was picked on, I was teased at school. And life for me was not very easy. It was very miserable."</p> <p>Volz says Andre's place gives him something to do, and he says the art projects can give him an emotional outlet to the outside world. He wants more people to understand just how tough it is to be alone, and to constantly battle with disability.</p> <p>But for his very first project here - he's chosen a happier message:  Be grateful for what you have.</p> <p><em>Andre's Place got started last week at Riverview Terrace Apartments in downtown Traverse City. All are welcome, Wednesdays at 1:00. The group is working on its non-profit status, and they could use donations of new or slightly-used art supplies.</em></p>