Uprooting the Stereotypes: Special Needs Art Show

Ellen Flynn’s eagerness is intoxicating as we discuss her “favorite time of the year” at the Art Establishment: the Special Needs Art Show. On March 4, the studio will hold this event for the third year in a row, building on its past success. Last year, 53 artists of all ages lined the walls and tables with artwork ranging from paintings to photography to pottery. Ellen notes the artists are “so proud to see their work hanging in a gallery,” as made evident by their beaming smiles.

Special Visions

A few artists with their respective artwork submissions. Photo courtesy of Ellen Flynn.

The basis of the art show is simple, and the positive effects magnify the humbling purpose. As a parent of a child with Down Syndrome, Ellen understands first-hand how kids with special needs are pigeonholed by confining stereotypes and base assumptions. Ellen confides that these artists are “always told what they can’t do,” so this show seeks to undermine those presumptions by “highlighting what they can do.” It’s a straightforward concept of inclusion, an open space to uproot the conversation and change misconceptions.

All forms of artwork are welcome, and Ellen tells me they usually have an influx of submissions. The problem is choosing which piece to use. I ask Ellen how she deals with this conundrum, and she lets out a weighty exhale before responding. “Everyone gets at least one piece hung.” I begin to understand the selection is also based on inclusivity (there seems to be a reoccurring theme here). She explains they don’t include duplicates and she tries to take in as much as spatially possible so as to give every artist a chance for recognition.

I look through the pictures she sent from previous years and find pure joy along with the immense talent of these individual artists. We joke about how neither one of us has any comparable artistic ability, as Ellen’s bio on the Art Establishment website reads “she can’t draw a stick figure to save her life.” Each artistic creation individualizes its artist and serves to banish any sense of “otherness,” and the results are beautiful. One picture that stands out to me is of a young boy with dark-rimmed glasses, a yellow collared polo, and khakis standing cross-armed in front of his artwork. His hair is spiked up and he’s holding a toothy grin, while behind him rests his masterpieces: a work filled with circular paper cut-outs and two intricate photographs. He has an eye for color scheme and symmetry, and his power pose affirms this talent.

A young boy standing in front of his works of art. Photo courtesy of Ellen Flynn.

So what can one expect to see at the Special Needs Art Show? Firstly, the turnout brings together the entire Southside community, and Ellen notes it is a “great experience for families, caseworkers, community workers, and more.” And secondly, one can feel the pride and talent of the artists and, as Ellen puts it, the “happiest show of the year.”

The show will be held the Art Establishment in Fountain Hill, PA. and opens on Sunday, March 4th from 1-4 pm, running until March 31st.

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