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10th Anniversary of Revolutionary Teaching Approach that Offers the Severely 'Disabled' the Gift of Self-Expression - Through Painting
Date:10/4/2007

Students with cerebral palsy paint masterpieces and find liberation from misconceptions, stereotypes in the process

Visionary artist-turned-activist seeks funding for national 'road show' aimed at taking breakthrough technique directly to people who need it most

PRINCETON, N.J., Oct. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A charitable nonprofit organization devoted to teaching physically and/or mentally challenged children and adults to find self-expression through art will celebrate its 10th Anniversary in Princeton, N.J. on October 12th. Artistic Realization Technologies, or A.R.T., will toast a decade of achievement while at the same time raise funding through a silent auction of artwork created by A.R.T. students.

The money raised by the auction will in part go toward funding a national "Road Show" that will bring paintings to metropolitan areas across the country, including New York City and Los Angeles. One difference sets this art show apart from every other -- these "Soho ready" works of art were created by people who are wheelchair-bound with the most severe disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, muscular sclerosis and certain brain injuries.

"Many of these young people have never spoken a word in their entire lives," said Tim Lefens, founder and director of A.R.T. and the brains behind a breakthrough approach that teaches the severely disabled to paint, completely of their own accord. "These individuals cannot talk or walk and have limited or no use of their hands. A question that ate at me for years was: 'What would they tell us if they had the power?' "

Through an innovative teaching approach that blends technology with creative energy, Lefens has taught his artists to paint, providing a powerful means for them to tell their stories, to regain their humanity through self-expression. He has enabled the artists to find their inner, untapped passion. Many of them have waited their entire lives for a single opportunity to express themselves. The paintings are reversing misconceptions and stereotypes, and turning both the art world and the disabilities world upside down. To view the artists' work, visit http://www.artrealization.org. To see the techniques in action, click on the five-minute video from CBS News on the website.

The paintings themselves are powerful, but there are dynamics and benefits beyond the works themselves. "We've been trying to find creative ways to get inside these kids," said Dr. Ronald Savage, a recognized leader in special education, rehabilitation, evaluation and research. Dr. Savage is formerly of the Bancroft Foundation of Bancroft Neurohealth, a facility in Haddonfield, New Jersey that allied with A.R.T. to start a program. "While these are wonderful and creative works of art, it's the other things they've gained that's really incredible. Their attention and concentration has improved. They are able to make choices and communicate." Bette Pursell, mother of an A.R.T. artist said recently: "Until A.R.T. my son simply existed. Now he has a life."

A recent gallery showing of A.R.T. work, drew praise and outright amazement from a host of luminaries, like Sam Hunter, professor emeritus of Modern Art at Princeton University. Hunter arrived inconspicuously through the back door of the gallery, seeing none of the paintings' accompanying explanatory wall text. Seeing only the raw work, knowing nothing of the ages or physical conditions of the children and young adult artists, he immediately sought out the gallery director telling her the work was the best the gallery had ever shown -- that it was "ready for Soho." After learning more about the A.R.T. program, he quickly joined its board of trustees, along with actor Willem Dafoe, rocker Neil Young and Pulitzer Prize-winning author John McPhee. "I see A.R.T. as a revolution. And we at Princeton like revolutions." says

Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman.

Lefens has no formal training in treating people with disabilities; he's an abstract painter. But he, unlike most others, can relate to the barriers and misconceptions that hold back the disabled on the most intimate level -- not only is he a painter, he is also legally blind. Lefens gradually lost his sight, in a slow, painful process, to hereditary retinal degeneration.

Initially, Lefens offered his students a technique that involved rolling their wheelchairs over paint and moving such that they utilized the weight and power of their electric wheelchairs as an artistic impression tool; the motion and direction of the chairs' wheels acting as pencil or brush, serving to translate their emotions to the canvas. Lefens observed an immediate change in their outward behavior -- almost instantly transforming hushed and subdued attitudes into feelings of unbridled passion and excitement. Although this "rolling" technique was limited in its scope, Lefens knew he was on his way to cracking the code that would offer liberation and release to the million-plus people in the U.S. with the most serious physical and neurological challenges.

Lefens dug deeper, broadening the approach. He came upon the concept that a laser pointer, if attached to a headband, could be used by the artist to reach out --- to point, to touch the canvas and to direct the application of paint. Lefens assisted the students in this technique and developed clear menu choices, an infinite series of "yes" and "no" questions to build the painting -- one creative decision, one brush stroke, at a time. The student directs the tracker where to cut the canvas from the roll, so that they get the precise size they want. Again using choice menus, the artist picks color and ratios of blending, the process fully in their control, the tracker simply doing as directed, until it is exactly how the artist wants it.

"The students' authority and ownership over the process, start to finish, is absolutely and totally theirs," explained Lefens. As an architect directs the builder, as the conductor directs the musicians, as the author dictates to a secretary, with A.R.T. the artist directs the tracker.

Lefens' enlightened work has not gone unnoticed. He is a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Award for Painting. He founded A.R.T. with a seed grant from one of America's pre-eminent artists, Roy Lichtenstein, and since the artist's death A.R.T. has been supported by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. A.R.T. received the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Teaching Award. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, America's largest and premier health foundation, has recognized A.R.T. with two of its highest accolades, the Community Health Leadership Award and the President's Award. A.R.T. has been embraced by Princeton University's Department of Creative Arts where the nonprofit's flagship program operates.

Despite the recognition and praise that has been showered upon A.R.T., many of the leading disabilities organizations -- ironically, those who could benefit most from A.R.T. -- have met the breakthrough artistic program with skepticism and outright disbelief. "I couldn't believe they weren't banging down our door to get A.R.T. for those they're paid to serve," noted Lefens.

To immediately schedule an interview with Tim Lefens, please call Peter Wendel of Direct Design Communications, LLC at 202.380.5120.

Artistic Realization Technologies (A.R.T.) was founded by Tim Lefens in 1995. It received its 501(c)(3) status in 1997. Headquartered on the campus of Princeton University in New Jersey, six other centers exist around the state. Additionally, there are currently A.R.T. programs operating in Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Zealand and Canada, with many more springing up across the U.S. For more information and to view the artists' work, visit http://www.artrealization.org -- to see the techniques in action, click on the five-minute video from CBS News on the website.


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SOURCE Artistic Realization Technologies (A.R.T.)
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