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ArtMix: Creating Inclusive, Artistic Opportunities

Writer  /  Jon Shoulders
Photography provided

According to the staff at ArtMix, there’s no such thing as the inability to be an artist.

Founded in the late 1970s, Indianapolis-based ArtMix (formerly VSA Indiana) has become a statewide organization providing inclusive artistic programs and special projects for those with and without disabilities.

“I’ve never met a person with a disability that wasn’t extremely capable,” says Linda Wisler, vice president of programming. “We’re here to help them find a way to be creative and expressive.”

The ArtMix Artist in Residency program sends trained artists into school classrooms statewide to implement art-based lesson plans that meet the needs of K-12 students with disabilities. Artists receive special training from the ArtMix staff prior to working directly with students, and the program typically lasts a minimum of six weeks. Participating areas include Marion County as well as Muncie, Franklin and Logansport among others.

Students aged 16 to 22 with and without disabilities can participate in the Urban Artisans internship program, which provides an environment at the ArtMix studios on North Delaware Street for the development of vocational skills needed when transitioning from school into the workplace. Interns are given school credit, and are paid minimum wage in the summer or stipends during the school year. A few galleries and gift shops in Broad Ripple, including Plenty Lifestyle on 54th Street and The Bungalow on Westfield Boulevard, sell art pieces created through the program.

“A lot of the students in the program don’t go on to college, so they need those basic skills needed when taking on a job,” says Katie Deadmond, manager of community outreach. “The goal with the Urban Artisans program is not to create artists per se, but it’s learning how to be on time, be a good co-worker in any workplace, how to be a team player and even learning steps you can take to still be a productive member of a team when you’re having a bad day.”

In 2015 the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities selected the Urban Artisans program from more than 285 nominations for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Wisler traveled to the White House with intern participant Meghan McNeal to receive the award from Michelle Obama.

“It was a thrill, and we were only the second Indiana program to receive the award,” Wisler says. “I think Meghan was more excited to meet Sasha and Malia than Michelle.”

Ceramics, painting, music and even drama instruction are offered through the ArtMix Community Arts classes, which are typically eight weeks in duration and are aimed at all ages and skill levels. Scholarships are available, and tuition is on a sliding scale determined by household income.

“It’s an ongoing opportunity for people of all abilities to come here and be creative and self-expressive,” says Gayle Holtman, president and CEO of ArtMix. “We do five of the eight-week sessions each year. There’s a lot of visual art, and we’ve done yoga and music. This past summer we did a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Displayed throughout the ArtMix facility’s hallways are paintings, sculptures and crafts made in the Urban Artisan program and Community Arts classes, some of which are for sale. The studio spaces feature adaptive equipment, including adjustable tables and an accommodative potter’s wheel for wheelchair access.

“Sometimes the disability is not all about a deficit with a person, but a deficit in the environment,” Holtman says. “And in a given environment there are adjustments and modifications that can be made to make that disability nonexistent.”

Wisler says volunteers are always welcome, and the organization holds volunteer information sessions on the second Tuesday of every month.

“My goal is to get people here, and once they’re here, they can find the right avenue for them,” Wisler says. “Once there are 10 or 12 people in a room, they can build a community and get to know each other and make art.”

For additional information on ArtMix programs, special events and volunteer opportunities, visit artmixindiana.org or call 317-974-4123.

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