ArtWorks Program at the Sonoran UCEDD at the University of Arizona, Department of Family & Community Medicine

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ArtWorks is an outreach program housed in the Sonoran UCEDD at the University of Arizona, Department of Family & Community Medicine. ArtWorks promotes community and mutual learning through creative and expressive arts interactions between adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and University of Arizona students. (https://www.fcm.arizona.edu/artworks).

As adults with IDD live longer in their communities, they may experience multiple losses of loved ones such as parents, siblings and roommates in their adulthood. Reflecting and sharing loss related stories and feelings are an essential part of the normal grief process. However, there are limited grief support program for individuals with cognitive and communication challenges.

In August 2017, with funding support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Arizona Commission on the Arts, and Molly Lawson Foundation, Project Together was formed to develop a bereavement support curriculum with expressive arts, as well as to raise awareness of individuals with IDD’s support needs and the ability to process grief.

ArtWorks is an outreach program housed in the Sonoran UCEDD at the University of Arizona, Department of Family & Community Medicine. ArtWorks promotes community and mutual learning through creative and expressive arts interactions between adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and University of Arizona students. (https://www.fcm.arizona.edu/artworks).

  1. Curriculum Development and Implementation:
    Project Together 10-week grief support curriculum was developed by inserting expressive art activities as the core communication mode of weekly group learning and sharing activities. A pilot study was implemented with seven ArtWorks artists. Based on the pilot study feedback, art activities were simplified and more pictorial books were added to promote participants’ engagement and in-depth conversation. Now, we are slowly establishing a community presence to promote participants for the weekly public grief group session. 
  2. Transforming Personal Stories to Art Pieces for a Public Exhibit:
    To transform personal stories to a public art pieces, six volunteer participants had an additional 6-week opportunity to collaborate with 15 university undergraduate students from a community museum art education course. In a small group, they shared details of personal experiences and story elements, selected the most important stories to share in a public exhibit, explored the best format (e.g., book, comic strip) to represent their visions, and developed drafts and exhibit labels. Although the students initially expressed concerns (potential challenges working with individuals with IDD on a sensitive topic-grief), as they gained skills to better communicate, they realized that their group partners with IDD understand and experience grief, and this further impacted their perceptions of death and loss: “XXX has helped me come to terms with life after the death of a loved one…” “I found some participants were more emotionally mature dealing with grief… myself included.”; and “I had never talked about death to this extent with people.”

  3. Crafting My Story: Experiences of Loss, Grief and Spiritual Life art exhibit
    Project Together participants presented their art pieces with additional 16 ArtWorks artists at the “Crafting My Story…” exhibit in which artists expressed their broader and unique interpretations and expressions of death, life and spirituality:

At University of Arizona Museum of Arts, Tucson Arizona (September, 2019 – January, 2020)

At Yuma Art Gallery, at Arizona Western College (February to March, 2020)

Arizona Public Media (October 20, 2019). Arizona Illustrated, CRAFTING MY STORY, CREATIVE EXPRESSION FROM ADULTS WITH DISABILITIES. https://playpbs.azpm.org/video/october-20-2019-yfqkdy/

Students and a participant are discussing shared experience of grief
Students and a participant are discussing shared experience of grief.
Art pieces produced during the Project Together 10-week sessions.
Art pieces produced during the Project Together 10-week sessions.
“Crafting My Story…” exhibit at the Arizona Western College, Yuma Art Gallery
“Crafting My Story…” exhibit at the Arizona Western College, Yuma Art Gallery
One of my favorite memories of my dad, who passed away December 9, 2018, is camping in Patagonia.  My dad, mom, cousin Kurt and I, would take a camper to a special lot at Patagonia lake, lot 32.  In this painting, my dad and I are fishing and enjoying a fire on the special bench he liked.   This summer, I am going camping with Kurt and my mom, to sit on the bench and remember my dad. To make this piece, I used pictures of my family to practice drawing everyone to capture the way they look and to have accurate details.  I drew each person’s hands at least 3 times, about 30 hands! This ensured each person would be distinctive.  In the end, I drew everything on separate pieces of paper until I was happy with the details, then cut each piece out and pasted it to the bigger paper.

One of my favorite memories of my dad, who passed away December 9, 2018, is camping in Patagonia. My dad, mom, cousin Kurt and I, would take a camper to a special lot at Patagonia lake, lot 32. In this painting, my dad and I are fishing and enjoying a fire on the special bench he liked. This summer, I am going camping with Kurt and my mom, to sit on the bench and remember my dad.

To make this piece, I used pictures of my family to practice drawing everyone to capture the way they look and to have accurate details. I drew each person’s hands at least 3 times, about 30 hands! This ensured each person would be distinctive. In the end, I drew everything on separate pieces of paper until I was happy with the details, then cut each piece out and pasted it to the bigger paper.

A watercolor by Joey Aschenbrenner,
A watercolor by Joey Aschenbrenner
“Camping with Dad”
Drawing of Grandpa Mac
Sketches of Trip to Grandpas

My Grandpa Mac lived in Jarbridge, Nevada where our family would gather and spend time together at his cabin by the lake, enjoying each other’s company and telling funny stories. Grandpa was always prepared and had a place in his cabin called “the soda spot” where cold sodas of all kinds were stored in a special fridge for us to enjoy. We would also spend time together by going to church and then going out to eat afterwards. This piece is about how important my grandpa was to my family, and what an amazing storyteller, pianist, and wonderful man he was.

I decided to make this piece in the style of a comic strip because I have several different memories that I wanted to draw, and putting them in separate boxes worked best. I worked on each box separately and blocked all the other ones so I could focus on each memory and get the details right. I decided to make this piece more realistic so I practiced on separate paper before I worked on the final piece. I am glad I chose this process because I learned new principles of art, like perspective/proportion.

Comic strip-style picture of Trip to Grandpa's
Jack McHugh, “Trip to Grandpa’s”