UNION CITY — For many fine art enthusiasts, going to an gallery can be a very serene experience, with meticulous sculptures kept under glass and framed masterworks kept at a distance with velvet ropes.
However, a different kind of art gallery exists on the edge of Darke County, where special artists gather and share their remarkable talents to create an atmosphere of affirmation and acceptance.
Art Sense, an Adult Day Service Program offered through UCM Residential Services (previously known as Christel Manor), is an intermediate care facility licensed by the Ohio Department of Development Disabilities, for individuals with intellectual disabilities in Union City. Located at 388 State Route 571 in Union City, Art Sense is an 18,000 square foot facility on 11 acres, dedicated to providing social opportunities, community integration, as well as vocational habilitation for clients interested in developing work experience and necessary skills for success.
The Art Sense facility, filled with colorful, themed exhibits, features an in-house art studio and gift gallery, and also offers a community library, conference room space, a homemaker personal care training room, computer lab and gaming area, baking activity area, laundry training area, a sensory room and music area (which is very popular), as well as therapy space for occupational, physical, speech and language pathology therapy.
“Art Sense opened in March, 2014, in response to statewide changes applicable to county operated day services. The Art Studio is just one area of program activities offered at UCM Day Services.” said Jessica Schiavone, Director of Day Services and Art Sense. “Art Sense is also the name of the Studio for which we pursued a vendor’s license to enable the Artists to sell their wares, should they choose to do so, We want to encourage and promote the opportunity for clients interested in art to have the option to pursue art as a vocation.”
Schiavone, a native of Celina, originally began working at UCM Residential Services (Christel Manor) in 1993, and has seen Art Sense thrive in fulfilling its mission over the last seven years, crediting many individuals who have helped it become a vital part of the Darke County community.
“Many people and programs have inspired Art Sense as we have invented ourselves… Allen County’s ‘Artability’ is an amazing program, and I have always been in awe of their creative talent. We examined their program closely before opening our day service because they are so well known in their community. Sue Huston, the Community Connections Co-Ordinator at the Darke County Board of DD has been remarkably instrumental in opening doors for our program, as well as the other programs in the county,” said Schiavone. “The clients create the vibe and are the driving inspiration and motivation to create unique and ever-changing opportunities! Art Sense’s mission has always been to bridge individual potential and possibilities with opportunity.”
Among the many Art Sense exhibits created and displayed in the gallery over the past seven years, some have become “community favorites” among visitors and clients alike, including the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Pirate’s Cove, with some character props travelling throughout the community promoting awareness and goodwill of Art Sense’s mission. Each of the Art Sense exhibits are the result of imagination, vision, discussion, collaboration, planning and teamwork – all vital skills needed to grow and thrive.
“Individuals enrolled in the program created an in-house advocacy group and call themselves the ‘Karaoke Council.’ This group (any enrollee may participate) brainstorms and make the decisions on multiple topics including but not limited to themes, activities, funds and budgeting of the studio account, outings, entertainment or life enhancement program, guests, and changes to the spaces and programs in house,” explained Schiavone. “We have an awesome team that work together to create a plan. Structural design is usually determined by several months of persevering amongst the team — the ‘Karaoke Council,’ Tracy Brellenthin, the Studio co-ordinator, and me. I tend to lead the ‘dreamers,’ and Tracy leads the ‘doers.’
“Once we have a design plan, there are always technical issues that arise. Some exhibits are dependent upon what we call the Scavenger Hunt. The team prepares a list of items needed for props we are not building to supplement the art work. Then, clients venture out to garage sales, antique or second-hand stores, flea markets, sometimes junk yards to gather up a list of items needed to provide the details needed to bring our imaginations to life. We have several staff who are very creative about how to support those individuals determined on their quest for the perfect item,” she added.
In previous years, community members could come daily to visit, view, and purchase items available throughout the building and in the gallery, with new themes and artistic creations being promoted and updated on the Art Sense Facebook page.
“Activity ebbs and flows based upon other activities happening,” said Schiavone. “At certain times of the year, we may be busy building a theme or props for other community events or activities, so there may not be a lot if individual art being created in the studio.”
However, when the COVID pandemic struck, concerns set limitations on how many individuals can be present on-site.
“COVID has challenged our program but more importantly impacted the lives of our clients in ways none of us ever imagined,” said Schiavone. “Certainly, lack of attendance has impacted our operations budget, but more importantly, the pandemic has separated the Art Sense family and prevented us from sharing time together, much like it has impacted many family members nationwide.”
However, with the number of COVID cases decreasing, the Art Sense community looks forward to the promise of brighter days of ahead.
“We have individuals who have many types of artistic talents and would love to showcase them and open the opportunity to other individuals in the community. It takes a lot of time, a variety of talented support folks, certainly money, and of course an adoring audience, “said Schiavone. “We plan to hold future Art Sensational Expo’s. We invite the community to participate as artists, food vendors, musical talent, shoppers or spectators. Our expo’s have huge potential for growth!”
To learn more about Art Sense, or inquire about how to participate in the Art Sense program, contact UCM Residential Services at 937-968-6265, or contact Jessica Schiavone, Director of Day Services and Art Sense at [email protected]