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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ArtWorks moves forward with Employment First for artists with disabilities

    Nick Smallwood
    A tile mural painted by ArtWorks members decorates a pavilion at the UA community garden on Sunday, September 25, in Tucson, Ariz. Artworks provides disabled adults with the opportunity to learn artistic and life-long skills, while also giving back to the community.

    At the intersection of Helen Street and Vine Avenue, two unique treasures can be found: On one side is the UA Poetry Center, a beloved UA cultural hub, but just a little to the north on the other side of the street sits ArtWorks, an art therapy center under the Department of Family and Community Medicine.

    This day program is unique since it is on campus and therefore full of Wildcat pride, according to Yumi Shirai, director of ArtWorks. Most of the artists have been coming to ArtWorks for years and have created countless works, all displayed throughout the center’s three studios.

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    Along with daily recognition, the artists typically display their works at annual open house exhibits, but in recent years there has been an expansion, and the artists are now honored at three other locations near the university.

    Shirai has worked hard to display the good that comes out of this program.

    “ArtWorks is pretty active, and we interact with the university community,” Shirai said. “But, ‘generic day program’ sounds … negative … the old style.”

    Employment First is a contemporary policy of the Office of Disability Employment Policy under the U.S. Department of Labor ( The directors of ArtWorks have in recent years wanted to provide its diverse creative members a unique job in the place they have known and made a home at, rather than just sending them out to spots in the community to fulfill this requirement.

    Shirai and the rest of the ArtWorks team organized its Mary T. Paulin Gallery, named for one of its founders, so that it may have exhibits year round. These shows originating in the home gallery are curated by the artists themselves, and after they have been in the Mary T. Paulin Gallery, they are sent to other places ArtWorks has established within their university community.

    “So, that’s the new concept,” Shirai said. “The artist is the one who has the job—their vision, what they want to do, in their gallery.”

    Currently, the “traveling galleries” are located at the family medicine’s Alvernon clinic, and in the Sarver Heart Center at the Banner-University Medical Center Tucson campus. This opportunity was provided by Dr. Tom Lassar, a previous development director from family medicine who loved ArtWorks and everything it does.

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    “The artists who run the gallery decided to call themselves ‘Team Awesome’ when it first started,” Shirai said. “These artists are the ones who are great at outreach, who were best to work with the community.”

    Team Awesome is currently promoting the work of the staff and student workers at ArtWorks, and its new show will be out in January. Shirai noted they have not yet decided what it is going to be like—this is most likely to be tackled after the upcoming fall art show.

    The annual art show, this year titled “Together Making Rainbows” is on Oct. 28, with open house hours from 3-6 p.m.

    To see more of the artists’ wonderful work in our community, you can take advantage of the displays of mosaic tiles they have created in collaboration with medical students in their Commitment to Underserved People programs.

    The CUP students visit ArtWorks regularly to work with each artist individually, getting to know them and their world, and then creating these mosaics that can be found, for now, at the UA Community Garden on Mabel Street near ArtWorks, and in the future in the medical plaza at the College of Medicine.

    Follow Gretchyn Kaylor on Twitter.

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