The public got a peek Friday night at the artistic results of a one-of-a-kind program in which children with disabilities team up with professional artists under the watchful eyes of health care experts.
The works that went on display at the Downtown Arts Center will remain there through Aug. 3 and are the products of a program at Lexington's Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital. The hospital has been offering it for three years, and now state Rep. Kelly Flood wants to take the concept statewide.
She plans to introduce legislation that would provide start-up funding during the General Assembly's 2010 session.
Unlike other "Side by Side" art programs for children with disabilities, the art sessions at Cardinal Hill have occupational, physical and speech therapists on hand. It was a concept created by the hospital, the Lexington Art League and VSA arts of Kentucky.
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"Ours was the first that brought in that clinical factor," said Trish Hatler, Cardinal Hill's development coordinator. "The addition of clinical staff lets the activities be modified to meet the needs of the child."
Lights might need to be dimmed in a room in which a child with sensory issues is working on an art project. A child who acts out in class might need special help in focusing on a task at hand. Clinical therapists know how to handle these situations, Hatler said.
Each year, about 10 Cardinal Hill pediatric clients from 8 to 12 years old with disabilities participate in the six-week art course. Their disabilities include autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, sensory problems and traumatic brain injury.
The Side by Side program at Cardinal Hill focuses on visual arts, including collage-making, drawing, painting, sculpting and three-dimensional-mobile-making. Toward the end of the course, each student is paired with an artist from the Lexington Art League, and the two collaborate on a piece of art.
Under Flood's plan, the government would provide start-up funding for similar programs at five sites throughout the state. Each would offer opportunities in one or more artistic fields, including music, dance, drama, creative writing and visual arts, with help from professionals in those fields and health care experts. Grants and volunteers would help keep the programs going.
"It's equal access, really, for kids with disabilities," said Flood, D-Lexington. "It's a blend of health care, arts and children with needs."
She said Kentucky has been lacking when it comes to arts programs for children with disabilities.
"That's about to change," she said. "We know that the impact of the arts on health care is real."
Kentucky has one of the highest rates nationally of children and young adults with diagnosed disabilities, said Dr. Nick Kouns, a past president of the Lexington Art League and a member of the Kentucky Art Council who has been involved in the program at Cardinal Hill.
If Kentucky adopts a statewide program based on the Cardinal Hill model, the state will be at the top of the heap when it comes to combining art and health care to help children with disabilities, he said.
Kim Curran saw so much improvement in three of her sons after they participated in the program at Cardinal Hill that she decided to set up an art area for the boys in the family's Millersburg home.
"This art program has given them abilities to interact and talk with us," she said several weeks ago, shortly after this year's session ended.
She said allowing the children to work on art projects 30 to 40 minutes before they go to bed at night helps them transition to bedtime.
Austin, 11, who has mental and physical disabilities stemming from an illness, likes to sculpt, especially dragons and owls. Zackery, 10, who has a form of autism, likes to paint and make collages, his favorite subjects being animals and the solar system. Anthony, 8, who has obsessive-compulsive disorder and is bipolar, likes to draw and paint, especially fish.
"This gives them an opportunity to have a voice of their own," she said of the Cardinal Hill course. "We actually take the art from there ... and we carry it over in the home."