CINCINNATI — Some adults with developmental disabilities and their families are creating their own artwork in many different styles, thanks to a program at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
It’s called “Connect,” and it brings together visitors with special needs who get a VIP tour of a gallery. The monthly free program typically explores one genre or style of painting, such as landscapes or portraits, watercolors or acrylics, said Sara Birkofer, the museum’s manager of accessibility and gallery programs.
“What I think is great about this program is that we are providing an experience for people to come and look at art, interact with art and engage with it in a way they wouldn’t be able to do if they just visited the museum on their own,” Birkofer said.
She often poses questions during the tour that help the visitors to make a connection to the artwork and also get some inspiration to create their own works. She often asks her visitors: "Imagine if you were to step inside the artwork—what might it smell like?" She then hands out small canisters with a variety of scents to spark some discussion and creative thinking.
“In the galleries, we use multisensory tools to activate our different senses of touch and sight and smell and sometimes even sound to encourage our visitors to engage in a new way,” Birkofer said.
After their tour of masterpieces, the visitors head to a classroom/studio space where they learn how to make their own artwork. For Richie Sanders and his family, that gives them an opportunity to add to their collection of works inspired by the Connect Program. Sanders and some other families have been attending each month for years.
“Richie’s got a room full of art from each month and years of artwork actually for coming here,” said James Sanders, Richie’s father. “He’s created all different shapes and styles and different formats.”
No matter what style, Richie always adds an elephant to the picture.
“He loves elephants and always wants to add one to his work,” Sanders said.
Their family said that being a part of the connect program is about more than painting elephants or seeing masterworks of art.
“It’s very special to us that to be accepted - especially with an adult special needs son,” Sanders said. “Acceptance is wonderful.”
The Connect program is free to families but reservations are required. For more information, click here.