Art Ability Bags: A Vision Realized

Catherine Blatnik

I grew up in Bowie, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC, where we had access to the many museums and the Kennedy Center, all within an hour of where I lived. In December of 2001, my husband, daughter and I moved to Okemos, because my husband had accepted a Federal Government job in Lansing. In July of 2004, my son, Dominic was born. In 2007, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A year later it was Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder and in June of 2015, after having a Grand Mal seizure, it was determined that Dominic has Complex Partial Epilepsy. It was right around this same time that I became the Program Director of a non denominational and ecumenical disability ministry (All Faith Ministry for disABILITIES) and was asked to join the Board of Directors of the Mid- Michigan Autism Association. I knew that whatever programs and activities I developed (for both organizations) would not only help Dominic, but others with special needs.

When the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center started an art program for children and adults called, “Art Has No Barriers,” in 2017, I knew that I needed to meet the artist who developed the program, Catherine Tonning-Popowich. Catherine started doing art events for All Faith Ministry for disABILITIES shortly after we met and her classes were always very popular! The “Art Has No Barriers” Program was put on pause for a bit and
then in September of 2020, I reached out to Barb Whitney, the Executive Director of the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center. I had noticed that when the Pandemic started, the Capital Area District Library System started “Take and Make Kits” for all ages, but they were not offering art activities/crafts aimed directly at those with special
needs. Barb directed me towards Michelle Carlson, the Education Director. After Michelle and I had a handful of meetings, we decided that an “Art Ability Bag” project would be the best “fit” for what I was looking for. These “Art Ability Bags” would include all the materials needed (along with an “adaptability” sheet) for an individual of ANY age
AND ability to create their own custom art project!! We started in November of 2020 with 25 bags. We now have four people on the “Art Ability Bag” team (including an Intern from the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center as well as a Board member from the Mid-Michigan Autism Association). We strive to use local artists, because that is VERY important to us! It has made my heart full to see what an impact we are making in the special needs community!!! This “Art Ability Bag” project would NEVER have been possible without the support and guidance of the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center!! I will be eternally grateful that they saw my “vision!”

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