The Rapidian

Deeper hues of inclusion: How ACT's apprentice program empowers professional artists with disabilities

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This fall, ACT launched its apprenticeship program, an 8-month cohort that provides intensive art education for people with disabilities, preparing them for a career in the arts.
The apprentices and teaching artist Becky Baker

The apprentices and teaching artist Becky Baker

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About the apprenticeship teaching artist, Becky Baker

Becky Baker is a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University with a degree in Pre-Art Therapy. Becky originally joined the ACT staff as the Program Coordinator in the fall of 2011. She has helped ACT expand tremendously with programming and reach in the Grand Rapids community. Now as the teaching artist for the apprenticeship program, Becky provides the apprentice artists with the needed support to build a career as professional artists. 

This October, Artists Creating Together (ACT) launched its apprenticeship program, designed to provide high caliber, intensive art apprenticeships to eight young artists with disabilities from the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Transition Campus. These eight apprentices have been selected based on artistic promise and have chosen art as their passion and potential career path.

Through the apprenticeship program, the artists are able to train under someone who has experience as a professional artist. By training under a professional artist, the apprentices gain experience in arts administration, professional development, and artistic training and experiential learning. Through gaining this experience, the artists learn crucial skills for their careers in art, such as writing an artist’s statement, marketing work on social media, and displaying work, as well as honing their natural artistic ability. They also gain the ability to analyze other artwork and explore their chosen field.

“Diving deeper, gaining artistic and marketable skills, and exploring are the main goals of the apprenticeship program,” said Becky Baker, the apprenticeship teaching artist.

Each week, the apprentices begin with art journaling to stimulate creativity. Becky plays instrumental music and the artists create based on how the music feels. This helps them let go of their barriers and create art freely.  Next, students are given time to work on their own individual pieces. During open work time, artists are free to use any of ACT’s studio supplies, including 2-dimensional media like markers, pastels, pencils, and paint, as well as 3-dimensional media, like collage and mixed-media materials. This freedom of expression is meant to be inclusive – not limiting artists based on disabilities.

After journaling, Becky highlights one contemporary professional artist with a disability, showing that people of all abilities can be successful artists. Becky carefully chooses these artists to reflect the disabilities and art forms that the apprentices bring to the program, ensuring that they feel empowered and confident in their own abilities.

At the first session, the artists needed to establish their own personal goals for the eight-month program, answering questions about what they want to learn, improve, and what they want people to know about them through art. They wrote a statement of discovery for the year to guide their work and their goals.

“I want to learn how to make different types of art with touch and feel,” shared Jaz, an artist who is visually impaired. “I want to express myself better through my art.”

While defining themselves as artists and defining the artists they want to be, the artists were chatting amongst each other – truly building a community that will grow together throughout the program. ACT interns sat down and talked to the artists as peers, empowering them to find value in their own ideas and their own unique characteristics.

As the year has progressed, unique styles have already begun to emerge – some artists are naturally drawn to abstract imagery with unique color palettes, while others prefer realism, and others prefer creating work with movement. The range of personality and artistic talent emerge when the artists are respected as artists and they are free from any creative barriers.

The artists will have online stores with their work launched by mid-December, and ACT will highlight each artist on The Rapidian once the stores are available. Be sure to follow us on social media to learn more about the unique apprentices and their progress during the program. For more information about ACT’s mission, visit artistscreatingtogether.org.

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