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Acts of Love and Community

Art Exhibit Collaboration brings University students and disability community together 

By Drew Milne  

A University of Arizona School of Art and ArtWorks collaboration is addressing social isolation caused by the pandemic through the creation of an art exhibition.  

Assistant Professor of Art and Digital Culture Education Carissa DiCindio and ArtWorks Director Yumi Shirai virtually connected UArizona students with the disability community ArtWorks serves. The project’s goal is to reduce isolation by hosting a creative community and help University students learn how to make art museum exhibition space more accessible. 

ArtWorks artists and school of art students met virtually in small groups once a week over the course of seven weeks. In these meetings, the artists and students discussed their personal relationships with food, brainstormed ideas for art, created rough drafts, looked over the pieces’ progress, and finally planned for the exhibition. 

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The art exhibition called “Acts of Love and Community: Sharing Experience with Food and Art” will open October 24 and run through December 19 at the UArizona Museum of Art.  

During a virtual panel discussion, Drs. DiCindio and Shirai shared how the project unfolded: The food theme was chosen because it is both universal and unique. Everyone has their own experience with food, but each person’s experience is shaped by their culture, memories, and upbringing. In this way, it serves as a perfect connecting point for creating the relationships that the project seeks to build. 

ArtWorks Artist Joey Aschenbrenner created Joey's Favorite Food as part of a University of Arizona School of Art collaboration. The piece will appear in an art exhibition called “Acts of Love and Community: Sharing Experience with Food and Art” will open October 24 and run through December 19 at the UArizona Museum of Art.

A few select pieces of artwork were highlighted, including a piece by Joey Aschenbrenner titled  Joey’s Favorite Food. He detailed the process of creating it. He first traced the piece on paper and then worked with his group to select fabrics to create a collage.  

When asked about working with the students, he replied “I loved it”. 

The project allowed university students to experience a collaboration focused on participatory and engaging practices with a community partner. Experimentation and play were core to the project and gave students freedom in their own process of creation. Altogether it created a welcoming and creative environment for the artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities and strengthened connections between ArtWorks artists and university students. 

Dr. DiCindio’s students said that the project changed their thinking about building community relationships, and the role of food in doing so.  

“My group of peers… inspired my projects with their creativity and personal experiences,” a student said. “I feel as though the students I worked with changed the way I create art in my own practice; breaking away from the seriousness and creating simply for the sake of creating.” 

 

Staff Profile: Kelsey Montano

By Drew Milne 

In brief, describe what you do at the Sonoran UCEDD. 

Kelsey Montano: I work with students with disabilities, help them get job readiness skills, and then put their skills to work.

What is your role, specifically?

KM: I’m a vocational specialist. My role is working with schools and employers, networking, and finding those job sites, so that students can put the skills that they’ve learned into a real work setting.

Who do you work with in the community?

KM: We work with the students and their job coaches, and from there we work with employers at the job sites.

What does this look like on a day to day basis?

KM: Day to day it varies based on how many students we have, how many students are placed out in the community, and how many are still in the school setting. Creating jobs on campus is another element of our job. That might mean we’re on school campuses working with them ongaining positions at a school store, food service, custodial work, or office work.

Why is your work important?

KM: The results are the important piece for me. I like to see the growth from the students. I like tosee the change and impact that our service has with each individual. Something to remember is that each situation is individualized, and with that it’s important to be open-minded

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So you can’t use the same approach for every situation.

KM: Absolutely. An example of that is we had a few students placed at a hardware store. They were doing the same task - stocking. One student was looking at the pictures of the items so theycould match them appropriately, and another student was matching the bar codes. Understand that someone may need more or fewer supports, but they’re still getting the same task done.

What do you like most about your work?

KM: I think that ties back into the growth. I like to see from start-to-finish what the students arecapable of. Sometimes even the student doesn’t recognize that they have those abilities, and putting them out into the community where they can get the job done is a reward in itself. Then they gain the confidence to keep pushing through or gain new confidence to help them learn a different task altogether. It’s very rewarding.

What inspired you to start doing the work that you do?

KM: I’ve always worked with students, and I’ve worked with this population for a few years now. Coming from an educational setting, it’s very nice to be on the other side and see it all tie together. I haven’t been introduced to a program as effective as Sonoran UCEDD, so it’s positive seeing first hand the results of what can happen with a vocational specialist, transition specialist, and a supportive team working with the students and educators.

Do you have any stories from your work that have particularly resonated withyou?

KM: We paired a new student at one of our job sites over the summer, and the employers were kind of hesitant to have students come in, understanding that a few of them might have a disability. In this case they were open and accepting of us coming in, and by the end of the summer session they missed these guys. They were actively asking how these students were doing. They wanted to know if the students were going to come back and do some more work. Aside from that, we had a student who was employed at a dream job of his. He worked there for the summer and he worked hard, he made relationships not just with the employers but with the regular customers, and he just started his first day of work as a paid employee.

Is there something about your work that people might not expect?

KM: A lot of these job readiness skills come naturally for us. We don’t usually think twice about howto put something up when we stock an item or put an item away. For these students, they justneed a little extra support. So it’s the same tasks you and I do on a day-to-day basis, they just need it to be more individualized and more focused. Whether that’s attaching a visual aid or aprompter to better assist them - they’re still capable of getting the job done.

Do you have any advice for people who may be interested in working in your field?

KM: A lot of this is based on observation, so just be present and enjoy the process. Help them understand that while sometimes there will be things at work that we don’t enjoy, a lot of it should be something that we enjoy. So if they’re put in a job site that they don’t enjoy, that’s a good indicator for us that this placement might not be the right fit for them. So ask “What is it about this job that you do enjoy? What is something that you took away that you still liked, and what are the things that you don’t like”. So it’s finding that drive and finding what motivates them.

In the course of your work, have you learned something that has stuck with you?

KM:  I learn something every day. I think the biggest takeaway I’ve had is that there’s not just one way to solve a problem, and to be open-minded about that.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about what you do?

KM: Overall it’s really important for me to let others know that everyone is capable of work. Everybody deserves a chance to work and to be employable. If we can help one person, that’s a reward in itself.

"Getting vaccinated helps the world. It helps everyone" - Gabriel Martinez

Even if you've had COVID-19, it is still recommended that you receive a vaccination.

According to a study cited by the CDC, vaccines are very effective in preventing re-infection1.

Gabriel Martinez got his vaccine after recovering from his infection with COVID-19. He says the side effects of the vaccine are mild compared to the symptoms of COVID.

"One of my [COVID] tests was positive. I was in the hospital for almost a month. My blood pressure went up, and I couldn't taste anything. It was very hard to breathe. I used an air machine. I couldn't get my legs under me - I was in a wheelchair."

Thankfully, Gabe recovered. After quarantining, he was able to get the vaccine and return to work shortly afterwards. 

"The side effects [of the vaccine] were joint pain, aching, and headache". Gabe encourages people to get vaccinated, both for themselves and for their communities.

"You'll feel better. Lighter."