Reid’s Gift is a Southern California nonprofit organization that directly serves the needs of teens and adults with disabilities. Molly K. Rearick, EdD, CESP, founded it as a result of growing frustration with the lack of services offered to students with disabilities when she served as a teacher and school administrator.
The nonprofit is named after her former student Reid Brian Thompson, who had a considerable impact on her as an educator. Thompson had autism and in honoring him, Rearick sought to create dialogue about an often-discounted but incredibly significant subject.
“Once a student with a disability either graduates from high school or ages out at age 22, that person is often reliant on state-funded services for any sort of community involvement. Often, adults with disabilities are relegated to center-based programs or group homes that focus on those adults’ perceived weaknesses rather than on strengths, and those adults are segregated from the larger community,” explained Rearick.
Reid’s Gift reaches into the arts with its local program, Kindling Studios at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo, where artists with developmental disabilities are provided with an environment conducive to their growth. There are staff and various professionals available to offer guidance on entrepreneurial skills as well as various media aiming to teach and improve technique. Moreover, there is the opportunity to display artwork at other venues and reportedly, that is important to the artists.
The show I Am an Artist, hosted by the Ventura County Arts Council (VCAC) and currently on exhibit at the Atrium Gallery at the Ventura County Government Center, is one of the ways Kindling Studios promotes strengths in those with developmental disabilities.
“[With Kindling] I’ve got to experience more art shows. I like the art shows. They are kind of fun. Fun to have my art pieces up. At the Government Center, I have ‘The Birds of Paradise’ and I am proud of that,” said Allie Ferreira, 30, a painter who also enjoys card making, weaving, soap making, sewing and most recently, pottery.
Although Ferreira had begun art classes a few years ago and learned some things, she credits Kindling for allowing her to grow into the artist that she is today. While she finds some difficulty with creating detail such as windows on a cruise ship, or struggles like any artist with trying to make a project perfect, Ferreira relayed that she likes everything about being an artist; it and her other interests made her feel really good.
The VCAC and Kindling Studios partnership began last year when Director of Development Craig Rosen taught poetry to Kindling artists. Since then, VCAC has hosted a paid Kindling artist at its Pacific View Mall retail space, linked Kindling with a similar organization, SlingShot, in Santa Barbara and, according to Rosen, is now analyzing the use of its retail space to display not only Kindling artists’ works for sale, but also as a workforce training site for those frequently kept out of the job market.
For now, I Am an Artist features artists with varying experience levels and diverse types of artwork including paintings, weavings, wood-burnt art and more.
“The main emphasis behind this exhibit is going beyond preconceptions. These individuals do not want to be defined solely by their diagnosis,” Rosen stated. “All of the people in this show make art, which can be a deeper way of understanding them. They all have distinct personalities that come across in their work and at the reception and even when we were hanging the show, employees at the Government Center had a chance to meet some of the artists and that experience had a lasting impact for all involved. This becomes an entirely different context in which to engage with someone, far beyond a first impression.”
Alan Baker, 25, of Thousand Oaks is an artist mostly interested in how others react to his woven works “Random Inspiration” and “Grey Rug.” He sees the need for organizations like Kindling.
“Very important. Very important because it gives them the opportunity to interact with other people. So they can have opportunities to make creative art,” he said.
The artists receive 90 percent of the proceeds from I Am an Artist and the remainder is allocated to purchasing program materials. Baker and others will have another chance to show their work on June 24 at the Sparkler Art Exhibit and Fundraiser at Studio Channel Islands. The event’s proceeds will be used to support Kindling Studios and the artists will keep all funds earned from art sales.
“For many of the artists, their goal in showcasing their work is to get people looking, talking and thinking differently about adults living with disability,” explained Kristina Ebsen, registered art therapist and program director at Kindling Studios. “That they have passion and potential deserving exploration and opportunity, that they be seen as competent, and regarded as full members in their community.”
I Am an Artist is on exhibit through July 4 at the Atrium Gallery, Ventura County Government Center, 800 S. Victoria Ave., Ventura. Sparkler takes place on Saturday, June 24, 7-10 p.m. at the Blackboard Gallery at Studio Channel Islands, 2222 E. Ventura Blvd., Camarillo. For more information, call 310-853-0794 or visit www.kindlingstudios.org.