In a bright room on the top floor of the Unison Health and Community Services in Toronto’s west end, there sits a woman who is painting her colourful canvas full of yellow sunflowers.
Surrounded by 11 other disabled adults like herself, Lorraine Bradley has been a part of the bi-weekly Art Beat program for five years.
Facing each other in the sunlit classroom, the participants are surrounded by hundreds of painted canvases on the high shelves.
“They don’t judge you here. Everyone is here to do what they love and grow as artists,” Bradley said. “Art is very important.”
Unison caters to people with special needs. It provides individuals with a space to connect on a regular basis through the different programs, including Art Beat.
Watch the program’s participants explain what it means to them:
This program is for adults with developmental and psychiatric disabilities.
Frannie Potts, the art class facilitator, says it’s important for these adults to be a part of a regular program to help their social skills.
“This allows them to express themselves and have an outlet for their creativity and expressionism,” she says. Sometimes words just don’t do the trick.”
After each class, participants can take home their favourite paintings and have the option to put the rest in the donation pile.
When the art program ends in June, participants are encouraged to include their paintings in Hand in Hand by Art Beat, an art exhibit held in August.
Walking outside the classroom in the hallway filled with art, Rick Wang, another member of the Art Beat program, shows off his self portrait.
“I like to draw. My favourite thing is superheroes, like Superman,” Wang says.
According to Statistics Canada, 13.7 per cent of adults are living with disabilities. Having more programs such as Unison can be beneficial in many ways and is something art facilitator Donna Adams, feels strongly about.
“This being a non-verbal activity really ties into the creativeness of the participants,” she said. “Little prompts will allow the students to engage in further learning and do things they didn’t even know they could do.”
As the four hours of class time comes to an end, smiling faces leave the room brighter than ever. Participants wave with one hand while holding their completed canvases in the other.
“It’s important to do stuff that you love to do,” Bradley said. “And this is what I love to do.”