On a recent rainy afternoon, a small group of adults with developmental disabilities gathered in the Creative Union art gallery to practice organizing the store, interacting with customers and running the register. They tagged jewelry, set prices and counted cash amid a colorful collection of paintings, crafts, clothing and greeting cards, all made by local artists.
The Union Square gallery holds job-training workshops so that people with Down syndrome, autism or other challenges can find work within the community. It also holds several workshops for the public on drawing, painting, sewing, beading and screen-printing.
Additionally, it offers local artists both with and without disabilities a space to display and sell their art.
Creative Union serves as a satellite to the Walnut Street Center, the Somerville human services agency that caters to some 200 people with either developmental disabilities or Alzheimer’s disease. It also collaborates with Medford’s Outside the Lines Studio, which provides art therapy and job training for people with disabilities.
Workshops Promote Social Integration and Independence
The Walnut Street Center staff drive many of the job-training workshop participants to the gallery, but at least one man with Down syndrome, Bryce Miller, takes the bus to get there. Miller, 28, lives alone and works at a department store. He leads the sort of independent and socially integrated life for which the gallery’s manager, Anyahlee Suderman, said the center aspires to prepare other developmentally disabled adults.
"There's a huge push toward community inclusion for our population," said Suderman.
She said that many people with developmental disabilities are driven to and from home, centers and activities without experiencing the community on their own. Nevertheless, she said that the job training and art workshops at the gallery enrich their day-to-day lives.
"This is an asset for the population that gives them a chance to have a more diverse life," she said.
Meanwhile, Walnut Street Center Executive Director John Keegan said the gallery benefits the local community in a variety of ways.
“In practical way, it's a great gallery that makes one-of-a-kind, creative art for peoples’ homes,” he said. “There’s also a 'fabric-of-life' benefit that allows the community to see folks with developmental disabilities in a different light: engaged in art, selling it and operating the store.”
Forthcoming gallery-sponsored exhibitions and events
Creative Union artists will show their work April 30 and May 1 from noon to 6 p.m. at Somerville Open Studios, an annual showcase for local artists.
On May 1 the gallery will hold a one-year anniversary party from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and will serve light snacks and wine.
Outside The Lines gallery, which collaborates with Creative Union, will hold a community event in Medford on May 22. Gallery members will print pictures and designs on t-shirts that attendees bring from home. The event will also include a barbecue, an art fair and a yard sale.
Individuals at the Walnut Street Center have recently made a giant, multicolored paper necklace that they'll display in the window gallery at 310 Massachusetts Avenue on MIT's campus. The center will then display the necklace at the Somerville Museum sometime in September.