Out & About: Mural project brings artists with special needs together

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    Panels that are part of the "Arts & Voices Mural Project" that is currently on display at the Special Needs Support Center in White River Junction. (Valley News — Liz Sauchelli) Courtesy photograph—Courtesy photograph

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    Panels that are part of the "Arts & Voices Mural Project" that is currently on display at the Special Needs Support Center in White River Junction. (Valley News — Liz Sauchelli) Valley News photographs — Liz Sauchelli

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    Panels that are part of the "Arts & Voices Mural Project" that is currently on display at the Special Needs Support Center in White River Junction. (Valley News — Liz Sauchelli) Courtesy photograph—Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/22/2022 10:18:47 PM
Modified: 10/22/2022 10:18:36 PM

When Rick Clavelle retired after 42 years at Hartford’s Regional Resource Center in 2020, he wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye.

“I just wanted to do something where I still had a connection with that program and also to help do something that was a uniting kind of idea,” Clavelle said in a phone interview last week.

He came up with the idea for an art project where students at the center, which serves pupils with developmental delays and disabilities, would create different panels that would then be joined together to form a mural to put on display. That project went so well, Clavelle said, that he wanted to expand it to the whole community, so he reached out to Laura Perez, executive director of the Special Needs Support Center.

“We decided it would be a great idea to extend it to a larger group,” Clavelle said.

They went on to do just that, working with around half a dozen different groups that support people with special needs to create art on 8-by-8-inch squares that would then be put into larger panels titled the “Arts & Voices Mural Project.”

The result — four different panels containing 100 pieces of art — is now on display at the Special Needs Support Center, also known by its acronym SNSC. It was officially unveiled Thursday night during an open house and ribbon-cutting to celebrate SNSC’s White River Junction location, which opened almost two years ago but is starting to ramp up as concerns about COVID-19 have subsided.

There are 25 squares in each panel, which are mounted on four wooden stands. Most were made using acrylic paint. Some participants used pencils to stencil designs before applying the paint or used markers to outline part of their piece to make it pop more.

Carmen Lachle, a program coordinator at SNSC, said he favorite part of the process was “watching all of our participants realize they’re good at art and they’re an artist.”

Lachle, a program coordinator at SNSC, reached out to Zack’s Place in Woodstock, Hartford Autism Resources Program and Visions for Creative Housing Solutions, among other groups. People who attend Art Lab, an SNSC program hosted at AVA Gallery and Art Center, also contributed. And it wasn’t just people with special needs who created squares: Caregivers and those who work in the field also pitched in.

“Everybody is important to the community, regardless of their strengths and weaknesses,” said Clavelle, who worked with students at the Regional Resource Center to build the wooden frames. “The mural is kind of a statement about that, that everyone is important, that everyone has their story to tell about themselves.”

Lachle took the art project a step further. She and others working on the project started to record videos of participants who shared a fun fact about themselves. A QR code was then printed and placed on their squares. People can use their mobile phones to scan the codes, which then lead to that participant’s video on YouTube.

“I was lucky enough to be involved in the stories and learn a lot about the participants,” Lachle said.

In addition to highlighting the participants themselves, the project was a way to acknowledge the organizations that support people with special needs and their families.

“Some go unnoticed, this sense of community that exists for supporting people with special needs,” Claville said.

Kit Farnsworth is one of those people. She retired from the Regional Resource Center a year after Claville and worked with him on the mural project. After retiring, Farnsworth started volunteering at Art Lab.

“We really all felt like some adults with special needs, their voices aren’t necessarily heard,” Farnsworth said during an interview at the open house. She recalled working with a participant who really likes skunks and decided to paint a skunk on their square. Another, an aspiring cartoonist, chose to create the action hero The Hulk.

“It was the most engaged I’ve seen him in the programs they’ve done,” Farnsworth said.

While SNSC has participated in public art projects before, it was never anything on this scale. In addition to the time put in by staff and volunteers, SNSC received a grant from Vermont Community Foundation to put toward the murals.

“For me, it’s just such an incredible opportunity to show the incredible skills of our community,” Perez said at the open house.

There are plans to take the project on the road. The murals will be displayed at The Space on Main in Bradford, Vt.; AVA Gallery; and Dartmouth-Hichcock Medical Center, among other locations.

“Our goal is to have it be seen in the community,” Perez said.

Clavelle hopes that when people view the murals, they take the time to realize that everyone — regardless of their strengths and weaknesses — has something to contribute.

“Our communities need everyone, and everyone’s story is different, but everybody’s story is part of the big picture,” Clavelle said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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