You’ve probably heard of our friends over at Art Connection Studio.
We’ve covered them on the blog (Art Around Town: Art Connection Studio and One-on-One with Art Connection Studio), we’ve featured them on our social media platforms and in the 100 Pearl Street Art Gallery. But this year, we took our relationship with them to the next level: we are showcasing one of their artists, Arnaldo Sanchez, as one of our 2017 Featured Artists.
On a gloomy Thursday morning in April, I visited Arnaldo, and Program Specialist/Artist/Art Therapist, Michael Galaburri in the studio at 56 Arbor Street. Around the corner from Real Art Ways, Art Connection Studio is located in the former Underwood Computing Machine Factory. The large brick building is now home to an assortment of art studios and non-profit organizations. Created by Vinfen, a human services organization that specializes in working with individuals with disabilities and life challenges, Art Connection Studio is a non-profit community art center designed to provide arts-based programming for people with disabilities in a professional studio environment.
Together, Michael Galaburri and Arnaldo Sanchez were able to answer a few of my questions. Galaburri fielded most answers regarding Art Connection Studio and their role in the culture of Greater Hartford and worked with Arnaldo to answer questions pertaining to his artistic journey and process.
How would you describe the mission, vision and goals of Art Connection Studio? How did Art Connection Studio get started?
Marita McDermott is the Director and Founder of Art Connection Studio. Back in 2011, she assembled a team of staff and Art Therapists to help create a community of artists, working in a vocational art program, part of Vinfen Corporation of Connecticut’s nonprofit day services for individuals with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities. It was a dream that started above a garage at a residential site where some art making was taking place in a small group. It has grown over the last five years into an innovative, thriving studio & gallery space on Arbor Street in Hartford.
The goal is to provide a structured space and the means for individuals to have experiences of working together, receiving a little income from the sale of artworks and various crafts. Through these experiences, individuals learn interpersonal skills and how to handle responsibilities and challenges. This prepares them to acquire and maintain employment with businesses and organizations in the community.
Art Connection Studio’s mission is to transform lives by providing arts-based programming for people with disabilities in a professional studio environment. Our hope is to see that individuals with disabilities who are able and want to can find employment that is satisfying and rewarding. The studio and the art making itself becomes a crucible in which we develop healthy relationships that promote and encourage everyone to reach their potential. The substance of a meaningful life is grounded on who we are as creative beings, what we actually do in the world, and how we work and play together in various combinations. When you bring people together to work creatively in a nurturing space, a kind of alchemy takes place and we are all transformed for the better.
How long have you known our 2017 Featured Artist, Arnaldo Sanchez? How would you describe your role in his artistic journey?
Arnaldo has been with the studio for about four years. He came to the program having an interest in art and enjoyed cartooning and drawing at home. When he was introduced to painting, his excitement over new media propelled him into a variety of creative directions. His creative efforts are compelled by his love of art and the enthusiastic responses of others.
My role is part mentor, part studio assistant, part artist agent, but we are both fellow artists. As an artist I am amazed that he can sustain creative work five days a week, week after week. There seems to be no end to his output. I have not seen him in a creative dry spell, lack of confidence, or ambivalence over his aesthetic direction. It seems making art work is as natural and spontaneous as breathing is to him.
Does Arnaldo have any exciting pieces or art projects planned for 2017?
Arnaldo prefers to make works without a conceptual grand scheme. He doesn’t look to the future and say he would like to create a series of work based on such and such. Each piece though related to a previous group by technique or content is a cherished and unique aesthetic entity. He loves all of his work the way one might love all of one’s children. He is also not shy about finding homes for them. It gives him great pleasure to sell a work to someone who has also fallen in love with one of his pieces. The direction Arnaldo will take his creative work is unexplored territory, unknown terrain, and as an artist, I await with great anticipation for what he discovers for himself and for all of us in the studio.
One area that has not been fully explored is Arnaldo’s photography. Over the years with us he has shown a proclivity to capturing beautiful and intriguing images in this medium. This is something we would discuss with him as a possible project, an exhibit of his photographic images vs. their representation as painting. We may suggest a structure of method, and he will pour his creative energy and vision into it.
What themes does Arnaldo explore in his artwork? What does being an artist mean to him?
Arnaldo enjoys painting a variety of subjects, animals, landscapes, farms, villages, cities, still life. He has also produced a number of works based on Native Americans of Connecticut. Arnaldo says he likes to make people happy by showing his work. As an artist he helps others in our studio find ways to create, showing them various techniques he has learned. Being an artist means being part of a community in a very unique way, –for him it boils down to spreading joy.
If Arnaldo could choose three words to describe how he wants his art to make people feel, what would those three words be? Why?
When I asked Arnaldo this question, he answered, “amazing, fantastic, incredible!” It does not need an explanation or further elaboration. I thought to myself, as an artist, I feel the same way.
As someone who works in the arts, and advocates for them respectively, why, in your opinion are the arts important to us as a whole? What does being involved with the arts mean to you?
It seems to me on the whole that the arts is a manifestation of the complex and dynamic domains of our human psyche, each of us taken as individuals, but also collectively the psyche of the culture at large. Through the arts one can begin to understand that the universal truths of being human are related to each person’s unique perspective. Each artist tells, retells, shows again and again the aspects that he or she alone carries. Each of us has a piece of the whole born into us through our experiences and circumstances. Not any of us can represent the totality of humanity. We need each other to bring to light the whole of what we are. When an artist offers his or her piece to be witnessed by others, we begin to see through the artist, and in so doing, we begin to understand ourselves, our place, the struggles of our brothers and sisters, and how we are all related and bound together.
How do places like Art Connection Studio increase cultural vibrancy in Hartford and the capital region?
We offer an all-inclusive place where people of diverse backgrounds can come to explore their creativity. Outside our day service vocational program there are opportunities to use the studio evenings and on the weekends. We have had a number of “art socials” and paint nights. An import part of increasing cultural vibrancy is partnering with other organizations across sectors. For examples, we have partnered with Trinity College, Brain Injury Alliance of CT, Hands on Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, Connecticut Landmarks, the Veterans Art Foundation, and of course, Greater Hartford Arts Council. We’d like to do more with corporations, with business and healthcare professionals. We love to share what we do, have people experience the joy of playing with art materials who may not ordinarily get the chance.
Anything else to add?
It is important to understand that we all have our limitations, and equally so that we all have scope. Our limitations and scope is what define us. Art making by its nature shows us our limitations and our scope. I have watched Arnaldo navigate through all this to produce “amazing, fantastic, and incredible” work. He is a paragon of a fellow artist in our studio.
At Art Connection Studio, the subject of our artwork is not about disabilities as such. Our work is essentially about discovering one’s unique personal vision and opening up to one’s creative impulses. Implicit to the fabric of the program is the cultivation of an artist identity and a sense of belonging to a community of peers. Artists are encouraged to play and experiment with various techniques and materials, to find what brings them joy, to experience a sense of wonder and a feeling of accomplishment. The work is not without challenges. Art Connection Studio’s staff and facilitators, including three art therapists, create an environment where artists can form relationships, promote wellness, and build the skills necessary to improve employment outcomes and thrive in the community. At the heart of this program is the belief that positive and nurturing relationships are a powerful agent for growth and healing.
Visit Art Connection Studio, Friday April 21st for their Spring Exhibition: Comings and Goings
56 Arbor Street, Suite 206, Hartford, CT | 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM
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