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Area artists donate time/talent to those with disabilities

It’s hard to decide who has the best time at the annual Art Splash — the working artists or the 200 adults and kids who are busily creating art with them.

Once each year, a group of professional artists from throughout our area donate their time and talent to United Rehabilitation Services and the clients they serve.

The non-profit agency, originally founded as the Dayton Chapter of United Cerebral Palsy, provides daily services to more than 400 children and adults of all ages with Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, Autism, Alzheimer’s and many other disabilities.

The attractive building on Old Troy Pike offers everything from special needs childcare to physical, occupational and speech therapies.

At this year’s all-day art party — held on Tuesday, July 9 — every room was filled with creative activities — with groups working on projects ranging from clay and spaghetti sculptures to floral murals. In the outdoor courtyard, kids were dancing to “You are My Sunshine” and doing the “Hokey Pokey” and the “Chicken Dance” accompanied by the Goodtime Accordian Band.

Event leads up to Regatta

The URS Art Splash is one of many events that lead up to the organization’s major fund raiser — The Tenth Annual URS Rubber Duck Regatta — which will take place at Riverscape MetroPark on Saturday, Sept. 21. At 4:30 p.m. that afternoon, more than 15,000 bright yellow rubber ducks will be dropped by crane and make their way to the finish line on the banks of the Great Miami River. Ducks can now be adopted for $5 each and the winners receive major prizes.

On the day of the Art Splash, however, the real prizes are the smiles on the faces of the clients who are painting flowers or butterflies or making toilet paper rolls into snakes.

“When you see a smile on their faces, you know that something has happened,” said Maria Cleary, an elementary school art teacher at Holy Angels School in the midst of re-enacting “Peter and the Wolf” with a group of children. Joining her was Arlene Branick, the former director of the Dayton Art Institute’s Experiencenter.

“We told them the story of ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and then played the music by Prokofiev so they would hear what the different animals sounded like,” explained Branick. “Then we made masks and played the music again so they could listen for their animals.”

“Who is a wolf? Who is a duck? Who is a bird? ” Cleary inquired, inviting each of the kids to hold up the masks they’d just created. “We’re going to turn the music back on and when you hear the music and your animal, put your mask on your face!”

The children were delighted to comply.

“This was fun!” said Mekhi Wright of Huber Heights who had become a wolf. “I liked the hunter!”

Vanessa Moore, activities coordinator for URS, said she loves Art Splash.

“Our goal is to enhance the quality of life for our clients and this is one way we can do that,” she said.

Artists on board

Other artists participating in this year’s Art Splash were Lois Fortson, Keith Thue, Connie Grant, Amanda Sue Allen, Carolyn Seger and Mary Anna Welch.

The giant and colorful sculptures that hang permanently from the ceilings at URS began as Art Splash projects under the direction of sculptor Michael Bashaw.

Bashaw says his idea was to create something textural made of composite parts that many people can do together.

“The monumental piece is larger than any of us could do on our own and when you have all those hands working together, you can create something significant,” he explained.

For his first sculpture, the kids decorated clear plastic discs that he then combined with large baskets and wired together.

“This time, I’m using recycled rubber and having the clients cut them into triangles or squares, or rectangles,” he said. “We’ll put those together in strips with zip-ties and they’ll all hang from bamboo poles.”

Bashaw says the clients he works with are always great.

“Everyone wants to participate,” he said. “People really want to be a part of something greater than themselves.”

How it started

That philosophy has been part of Art Splash since its inception.

Dennis Grant, executive director of URS, says the idea originated during a casual conversation with professional photographer Andy Snow, who had volunteered to help on URS projects. Snow offered to invite some other artists to spend a day in the building.

Grant says the special day is always a win for everyone: it exposes his clients to a variety of enthusiastic working artists, and the artists are inspired by their interaction with children and adults with disabilities.

“Art is transformative; you can see it not just for the clients but for the artists as well,” said Snow, who returns each year and said Art Splash has become a little festival. “They get it and that’s why they come back.”

“These are great, wonderful, creative, fun people,” Snow added. “You think your own life is tough and then you come here and spend a few hours. This is such a joy for the clients, what they are doing here is creative expression which is as human as it gets. You can express yourself beyond words.”

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