Center focuses on abilities, not disabilities

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Kayla Bunge
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
— For more than 10 years, Deborah Blackwell and Katherine Fincutter have been planning for a nonprofit arts center to spotlight the creative abilities of people with disabilities.

But it wasn't until this year that the necessary pieces, including getting nonprofit status and finding a space to rent, began to fall into place for Studio 84.

The mother-daughter team said the arts center will be a place of opportunity for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, a place where they can explore music, dance, theater and the visual arts.

"Everybody is inherently an artist on their own. We just have to draw it out," said Blackwell, 53, of Delavan.

"(Art) takes them from a disabled person to a creative artist," said Fincutter, 32, of Whitewater.

Studio 84 students will make their own decisions and work at their own pace.

"In a life of not being able to make choices for themselves … they're going to be able to come in here and say, ‘I want to paint today,' or ‘I don't want to paint today,'" Fincutter said.

Blackwell said such autonomy boosts self-esteem, promotes independence and counteracts social isolation. She said the experience also improves communication, coordination and dexterity.

"There are no wrong answers in art," Fincutter said.

"And it just starts to snowball," Blackwell added. "And that breaks down barriers."

Studio 84 students will receive some instruction.

"We want to be always challenging the students to push themselves just a little further without teaching them with an actual lesson plan," Blackwell said.

She recalled a time when she worked with a disabled man who would paint entire sheets of paper green. No pattern or picture. No other color. No other medium.

"We weren't going to change what he was painting," Blackwell said. "But we wanted to try and excite him and challenge him."

She showed him how to make green by mixing blue and yellow, and he learned that the shade of green changed as the mix changed.

Fincutter said it's those personalized "lessons" that can spark students to explore their creative abilities.

The mother-daughter team plans organized programming—such as a theater workshop for the residents of a local group home, a wheelchair dance lesson or class for those who want to learn to paint—but much of the time students spend at the arts center will be free form.

But there's more to Studio 84 than art.

A key component of the women's vision is to raise awareness about people with disabilities.

"It's like anything out there," Blackwell said. "The more awareness, the more you learn about a particular group of people, the more you understand they're just like you in every aspect.

"And that creates tolerance."

Studio 84 will take up residence in a 3,000-square-foot space at 121 W. Center St., a building that bears the recently restored "Prairie Tillers" mural, a colorful marker of the city's burgeoning art scene.

Blackwell and Fincutter plan to open Studio 84 in early December, when renovations to the building are completed.


For more information about Studio 84, a nonprofit arts center that fosters the creative abilities of people with disabilities, go to www.studio84inc.org or call Deborah Blackwell at (262) 812-7560 or Katherine Fincutter at (262) 203-2296.

Last updated: 10:46 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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