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Photo courtesy of Melissa Ezelle. The Arc of Prince George's County student Joe Warthen works on artwork currently on display at the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex's Learning Center Gallery.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Ezelle. The Arc of Prince George's County student Joe Warthen works on artwork currently on display at the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex's Learning Center Gallery.

Published on: Thursday, September 19, 2013

By Tracey Gold Bennett

A vibrant, whimsical, multi-colored art exhibit went up on the walls of the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex Learning Center Gallery on Monday.

What made this exhibit different is adults with disabilities who participate in the Arc of Prince George’s County Day Center and the Brentwood Arts Exchange programs created the masterful work.

Melissa Ezelle, director of community partnerships of the Arc of Prince George’s County, is an artist who guided her disabled students in the year-long creation and completion of the artwork.

“A year and a half ago our organization was awarded a private grant from a funder who wanted to give to our organization so the day program students could explore community-based programming for our adults with disabilities who are involved with our vocational day program,” she said.

As part of that initiative, the Arc partnered with the Brentwood Arts Exchange and a year ago the Arc began teaching workshops to students at the Brentwood Arts Exchange in the Gateway Arts District. The instructor, Rowena Bowman, would teach a new art technique to the students every four weeks. The techniques included creating fabric-based media, working with watercolors, acrylic painting and making ceramics.

“It really was quite a new experience for our students who had limited experience with art making,” Ezelle said. “When this partnership started, we discussed finding an opportunity to exhibit the artwork made by our students out in the public sphere so the public could enjoy what our students created and become aware of adults with disabilities and what they’re capable of.”

According to Ezelle, people will see a vibrant use of color that is pretty strong throughout the work and what she calls “gestural immediate mark making throughout the work.”

“One thing that is great is that our students are very uninhibited, open and eager to try new things,” she said. “As a teacher, I’ve taught undergraduate students and children. The adults with disabilities are not afraid at all when it comes to art making and the energy carries over through use of color.”

There is a variety of media in this exhibit including acrylic painting, ceramic work, printmaking with silk-screening and graphics, a variety of sculptural three-dimensional and two-dimensional work. The students even explored digital media using iPads and digital cameras.

“They took pictures, and we made printmaking plates from those photographs. I have a tiny printmaking press that I take to vocational programs, and we printed the printmaking plates and we layered up the imagery they’re really self portraits with a lot of gestural lines and mark making involved,” Ezelle said.

Ironically, Ezell said this exhibit has no apparent cohesive theme, but ironically, to those who see the work, all of the pieces fit together in a unified color schemata.

“I see this tendency toward bright colors and energetic style and gesturing from the students I work with. They see and feel things in a bright sensitive way, and maybe that’s being reflected in the work,” she said.

The vocational program serves more than 200 people and 50 of those people were involved with the art workshops. Ezelle likens the work to pop art or abstract expressionism as a genre in how it relates to the work. She also said the project is helping the organization meet its goal of decreasing marginalization in the public.

An estimated 70 percent of the arts students have some degree of autism or other cognitive disability. Ezelle said the art helps them to feel a sense of accomplishment, which helps with negative comments from people who may not understand the disability.

“That stems from ignorance and fear when you don’t understand someone that’s different than you, you want to pigeonhole them or put them in a category that’s easy for you to digest and understand. But when you take the time to learn about someone that’s different, who may be living with a disability or who is differently-abled, it’s refreshing,” she said. “I have learned so much teaching the students because differently-abled students see the world differently.”

The reception for the exhibit is at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5 at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex Learning Center Gallery, 8001 Sheriff Road.

Reader Comments - 1 Total

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Posted By: Emmanuel Adeyemi On: 9/23/2013

Title: Program Director

Wow, this is awesome and I am overwhelmed with a sense of belonging and achievement with our special population.
To our participants, Melissa, staff and all involved Kudos, kudos and more kudos!!!!!!!




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