The pairing of artists and the disabled yields uncommon benefits.

By Joe O’Donnell

Art brought John Donley and Nabeel Emaish together. Emaish is an artist, working currently at Earthborn Pottery, honing his skills in clay. Donley has an intellectual disability and has used art to push his intellect and visual ability into new areas of personal growth. Both of these men are connected through a very special program of VSA Alabama, which serves children and adults with disabilities and chronic illnesses through the arts.

VSA’s signature program is ArtPartners, which provides people living with disabilities and chronic illnesses the chance to develop meaningful relationships with artists in our community while creating collaborative works of art. Each year, VSA Alabama serves more than 2,000 people with a vast array of individual needs, from a young child with downs syndrome to a teenager with cerebral palsy to a grandparent with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

VSA Alabama and its staff, board, junior patrons, teaching artists, and volunteers are focused first on the person, and are dedicated to bringing them the most positive, beneficial, and meaningful experiences in the arts. The ArtPartners program is supported with a major event next month. This celebration and auction event is scheduled for August 24 at 6 p.m. at LincPoint, 101 Oslo Circle, a conference center at UCP headquarters off of Lakeshore.

The mission of VSA Alabama is to enhance the quality of life for children and adults affected by disabilities or chronic illnesses by providing programs designed to help participants experience, create, and share art in many forms, guided by the principles that art is therapeutic in that it enriches the lives of all those it touches, that creating art reveals an individual’s spirit, that sharing one’s art with others touches their spirits, and that the shared experiences of all those involved create a life of value.

From one mother’s perspective the work of VSA has worked wonders. Peggy Donley, John’s mother, has watched her son blossom in the ArtPartners Program. “John has been a very active participant with VSA Art Partners for around 10 years. John has an intellectual disability, but he is very high functioning.  He finished high school at Mountain Brook, where he took a variety of different art classes over the years.

VSA Art Partners Program has been awesome for John, both socially as well as artistically, Peggy says. “John over the years has built several wonderful friendships with the local artists. He made jewelry with Robert Levy from Levy’s Jewelry for one of the auctions. He has loved working on the pottery wheel since high school.  So naturally John and Nabeel hit it off right from the start, again building another wonderful friendship.  They have done a beautiful painting already and worked on the wheel some, and are in the process of making a piece for the VSA ArtPartners auction in August. Without Art Partners program John’s love for art in every shape may never have even developed beyond high school. From a mother or parents view, I feel very blessed that we found out about Art Partners and have been able to build friendships and relationships through their program.”

Nabeel Emaish began his journey with ArtPartners early last year. “If you are connected to the person you are working with, it works really well. Being able to communicate the options and possibilities of art is a nice give and take, an easy collaboration. I can work with them on what they would like to see and help them make it happen.It is very hands-on. John is cool to work with, and  very communicative. It is very easy to find out what he wants to do and if he is happy with the results.

“It is rewarding in the sense that it is nice to be engaged with someone for a really good reason. We spend a couple of hours together and come out with a piece of artwork. Knowing John got something out of it, makes me really satisfied,” Emaish says.

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