On any given day, dozens of clients at The Arc, a nonprofit organization for people with developmental disabilities in Stockton, are creating art for murals, greeting cards or jewelry. The projects aren’t simply busy craftwork; they’re regarded as art to be used and celebrated.
This spring, two Pacific art students volunteered with the program to help expand the kinds of art clients create.
“I think it’s a natural desire to want to create something,” said Pacific junior Mia Arostigui, who is majoring in Studio Art. “Anything you make is art because it’s something you created naturally. It’s a translation from your brain or your heart through your hands onto whatever you’re making.”
The Arc was founded in 1954 by parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It serves about 200 clients and offers job development and employment services as well as adult day programs.
“We were, I think, one of the pioneers in developing services back in the ’50s for individuals with IDD,” said The Arc’s Executive Director Connie Uychutin, who graduated in 1978 from University of the Pacific’s Raymond/Callison College with a degree in sociology.
Arostigui and Danielle Thomasson met with The Arc’s staff to learn about the program and the special needs of its clients.
Clients have a range of capabilities, but many have motor skills that are the equivalent of a 3-year-old child’s, which makes finding projects challenging.
“First, it was frustrating because we didn’t know what they could do. It seemed like everything was off limits — you can’t work with scissors; you can’t do much,” Arostigui said. “But then we realized we have to focus on what they can do and not what they can’t do. Once we did that, everything kind of fell into place.”
Arostigui and Thomasson came up with a list of projects that put a fresh spin on the work clients were already doing by introducing new materials or changing out tools.
For example, they suggested painting with a spread made of vanilla pudding and food coloring or stamping with food items such as apples in case clients try to eat them.
“If they do eat, that’s OK, and it’s fun,” Arostigui said.
They also recommended painting a canvas drop cloth with ketchup and mustard to create a mural.
“We were talking about how it would be so beautiful to see their abstract pieces,” Arostigui said. “They probably don’t have to think about aesthetics or ‘is this really art?’ They just make. They create things very naturally, and I think that would make very beautiful art.”
One goal for Arostigui and Thomasson was to make sure the art created would be celebrated and displayed. To do that, they suggested having clients make art that is usable, either as clothing or accessories that could possibly be sold. Their recommendations included painting on fabric that could be turned into aprons or clay beads that could become earrings or hair clips.
Uychutin was impressed by Arostigui and Thomasson’s ideas and their rapport with the clients.
“We took them on a tour, and as much as we can tell, they were very comfortable with our folks. They were very friendly to all of the consumers and to all of our staff,” she said. “I was really impressed they came up with activities that were very sensitive to what the staff told them they need during an art activity. I really found that commendable, actually.”
Arostigui, who graduated from Stockton’s Benjamin Holt Prep Academy, is also a Community Involvement Program scholar, so she said being involved in a community project is second-nature. She plans to earn her teaching credential after she graduates so she can teach high school.
She would also like to write and illustrate children’s books while also creating “serious adult artwork.”
Thomasson is also from Stockton. She attended Edison High School and is majoring in Graphic Design and wants to pursue a career in animation.