Jean McFee Raichle -- Summer Flowers -- Elderwise ® creative outreach class

Jean McFee Raichle, Summer Flowers. Image courtesy of The Art of Alzheimer’s.

Led by Barbara McMichael, SoCoCulture provides South King County, arts, heritage, and botanical organizations with networking opportunities, advocacy support, and professional development. Here, Barbara provides an update on a recent meeting designed to help the group’s members improve their services and engagement with the public:

At a recent meeting, our topic was access—we put together a panel of terrific folks who are working to provide meaningful cultural access to both artists and audiences with special needs.

Marilyn Raichle, founder of The Art of Alzheimer’s, talked about discovering how her mother, who had dementia, found a way to express herself even after she became nonverbal. With a paintbrush in her hand, Raichle’s mom created beautiful art with interesting content and vibrant colors. With this newfound evidence that her mother still had a creative spark and stories to share, Raichle has been working to spread the word about this way to connect. Earlier this year at Seattle City Hall, she presented The Artist Within, an exhibit that featured the art of dozens of individuals living with dementia. The disease affects about 100,000 people in Washington State alone.

The Jack Straw Cultural Center has developed several different audio production programs for blind and visually impaired individuals of all ages. Joan Rabinowitz, executive director at Jack Straw, noted that some of these programs have been running for more than 20 years. The Blind Youth Audio Project is an extracurricular workshop series that runs in conjunction with a University of Washington-based summer youth employment program for blind and visually impaired high school students. Students can get involved in radio theater production, interviewing, music recording and mixing, or soundscaping projects. Another program involves visually impaired high school students interviewing visually impaired adults about their careers, and how they achieved their goals. These and other initiatives have been collaborations with organizations including Humanities Washington, the Washington State School for the Blind, Arts and Visually Impaired Audiences, and the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind. And Jack Straw would love to find groups to partner with in South King County.

Our other two panelists focused on programming for special needs youth. Sammamish Arts Commissioner Lin Garretson has developed Special Arts 2Go, which partners special needs kids with high school student mentors to work together on hands-on art projects facilitated by professional instructors. Students are encouraged to express their creativity in a variety of mediums. Garretson said that the events are geared for youngsters on the autism spectrum, but that students with other special needs are welcome. Both they and their teen mentors have been enthusiastic about the program, and both sets of young people have benefited from the teamwork. The program has become immensely popular and has grown significantly in just a short period of time.

And South King County’s own Elisa Lewis, founder of the Maple Valley Youth Symphony, shared the story of how her organization formed a Jam Club when she learned that a couple of musicians in the Youth Symphony had special needs siblings. When the Jam Club started out it served just a couple of children. But as word spread about this Music Therapy based music education program, Jam Club has expanded over the last couple of years to include musicians from second grade through high school. Jam Club participants work toward musical and social goals, and perform with the Maple Valley Youth Symphony on specially selected pieces at every concert.

This program has had the additional advantage of connecting the parents of these kids and giving them a chance to share experiences and resources.

Marilyn, Joan, Lin and Elisa all provided inspiring and concrete examples of how to reach out to under-served populations in our communities. In South King County and elsewhere, let’s dedicate ourselves to doing more to dismantle barriers to participation!