Program brings disabled artists’ visions to life

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

A man grabs brushes, mixes the paint and applies a green color to a canvas. It might seem pretty standard for a painter, but the man is just the hands in the process. The one making all the choices is artist Jess Evans.

Evans has cerebral palsy and has been in a wheelchair for most of her life. She can’t use her hands to paint, but that’s what painting facilitator Stephen Haluska is present to do.

“I want to do completely her work and none of my own. And to do so I have to be neutral in the process and ask a million questions,” Haluska said.

The choices include what paint brush, paint color, texture and how the paint is applied to the canvas.

The Arts Access program method, based completely on freedom of artistic choice, was developed in 1993.

“For the people that we serve, most of whom are in wheelchairs, have little use of their arms and legs, or little volitional use, and many are nonverbal,” said Eileen Murray, Arts Access Program director. “But with the use of those methods, these artists can paint, they can dance, they can choreograph, they can write plays, poems, sculpt. They can do any art form because what we do is supply the hands, and the legs, and the arms for someone who can’t use theirs, but that’s all we do.”

Five of the artists at Arts Access recently had their work featured at Sotheby’s in New York, which is a dream for any painter.

“I think I’m unbiased in saying it was as good as any other artwork in galleries at Sotheby’s that day,” said Murray. “Nobody deserved it more. They’re true artists. They put their art in our hands and it’s a privilege really.”

“These wonderful people here, opened the door for me to show my true color,” said Evans.

For Evans, she’s not just creating in an art studio. Her other passion is on the stage doing hip-hop.

As the saying goes, you can do anything your heart desires. Evans is a painter. She’s a dancer. She’s motivated. She’s ready to do more, and she wants others to know they can do it all too.