Now through June 24, the Arts For All of Nevada (AFAN) is showcasing an exhibition at the Lake Mansion in Reno titled “Creativity Explored: Abilities in Art”. All of the featured artists have a disability and are taught by AFAN instructors Robin Robinson in Reno and Tia Flores in Sparks.
On Thursday, June 9, AFAN invited the public to a free art reception giving an opportunity to meet the artists and acknowledge their work. Reno AFAN art student Stephenie Conn helped organize the reception as well as had a few pieces of her own on display. Her skill set ranges from creating mixed-colored ceramics pinch pots to acrylic painted artwork.
Conn’s featured piece which she calls “The Lady” is an artwork that combines pencil, crayon, gel pen, marker, and a couple of different other mediums. Conn said that “The Lady” took her two weeks to complete; she worked on it every morning when she woke up and every evening before she went to bed.
“It’s good therapy for me. It is helping me emotionally and gives me a way to express my feelings,” Conn says. She spoke highly of her art teacher, Robin Robinson, as a person who helped her guide her in realizing and developing her vision.
“For the dog [painting] and the 4-leaf clover…I didn’t think I could do it,” Conn said. “But Robin taught me step by step how to mix colors, how to create it,” she says. After finishing these paintings, Conn said that it gave her a boost of confidence. “It allows me to get away from everything; to be at peace,” Conn says.
The AFAN is proving to make a significant impact in helping an underserved population in Northern Nevada. Tia Flores, the art instructor based in Sparks, says that she started at the Sierra Regional Center in 1998 teaching art to disabled residents as part of their activities program as a collaboration with Very Special Arts (VSA). When the program dissolved, the future of VSA was uncertain.
Now called the Arts For All of Nevada, the City of Sparks picked it up and allowed the non-profit organization to host workshops at the City of Sparks Recreation Center. At that time, the City was also working on building the Larry D. Johnson Community Center, which became the permanent home for AFAN.
Flores says, “This wouldn’t have happened without the City of Sparks; they really stepped up.” As well as hosting the program, the City continues to donate all art supplies, materials, and space to keep AFAN free for its participants.
“The goal is to create a safe space for them to express themselves; there are not many venues where they can socialize,” Flores says. Due to the art program, the students “comfort level has improved along with their willingness to expand and explore,” she says. She finds that the participants who once were introverted and passive are now more trusting.
Although Flores teaches full time at the Coral Academy, she says that her extra time with AFAN is very rewarding. She says that her disabled students tend to be more honest, sincere, and they live in the moment. “They look at things with fresh eyes; there’s no hidden agenda,” Flores adds. Every Thursday evening her workshop is like hitting the reset button after a busy workweek.
“We’re very fortunate to have an organization that caters to the underserved and provide an opportunity for these people to gather,” she says.
High Sierra Disability Services Trainer Virginia White has two clients that are premiering art at the Lake Mansion. White has noticed that the AFAN program has made her clients more social and confident.
“This is a much needed program because it teaches socialization, community activities and everybody’s got everyone’s back,” she says. She also observes an improvement of her clients’ attitudes and how this program encourages them to get out and do something.
A 30-year veteran of AFAN, Executive Director Mary Ellen Horan says that the program hosts 3,000 workshops in 50 different schools, mostly in Northern Nevada. “The soul of the organization is the fantastic art instructors,” she says.
“No one is charged for anything and it is so important for students to come and get confidence,” Horan adds. “This program is saving lives.”