Thursday, April 28, 2022


Art program provides support for disabled

Art students are taking a STEP forward as part of a Wayne County-based nonprofit program.

Services to Enhance Potential, or STEP, has developed and launched a new arts program for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities in southeast Michigan. STEP provides support services for people with disabilities and mental health needs.

While the organization is largely known for employment services - linking people with employers, providing job training services, and more - the art program is new at STEP.  Dubbed the Progressive Art Studio Collective, or PASC, the arts program aims to not only provide individuals with a creative outlet but a future in the art world, too.

“Just like with any other artists' studio, the PASC studio is here to help people find their artistic style,” said Anthony Marcellini, project lead for PASC. “In the studio, we're not trying to hide or mask peoples' disabilities. People can see and use their disabilities as something that's positive, something that's unique to them and their style and their work.”

In January 2021, the program launched in Detroit in a space big enough for about seven people, Marcellini said. The program has now expanded to a new location, providing studio space for 20 to 26 people each day.

The program proved so popular that a second PASC studio opened at their Westland location in February. And a third studio, along with a gallery, is scheduled to open at a STEP-affiliated thrift store in Southgate. 

One of the program goals is to find a permanent studio and gallery space in Detroit, hoping for the right location with lots of foot traffic.

“This is the first progressive art studio in Detroit. It's a pretty good example of what's been forgotten in the city,” Marcellini said. Progressive art studio is a term used to describe those studios that let artists find their style and independence on their own, instead of providing them with instructors and menial tasks.

Rather than take a top-down approach, with a teacher leading a class through practice and exercises, the PASC model adopts an open studio methodology. Marcellini and his fellow assistants are there to support and encourage the artists, not instruct them. There are no teachers. The PASC program is available at no cost to individuals with disabilities in Wayne County through Medicaid. Those outside of Wayne County or without Medicaid are eligible for scholarships.

“The artists are more independent here than maybe some other places. They're producing work that they're proud of and it's work that they're producing independently; we're not shadowing them,” Marcellini said.

“They're making the decisions themselves. Whatever they create is intentional. I think this place will become part of the city's arts community - not just the disability community.”

The progressive art studio approach eschews a top-down model featuring a teacher and a class. The open studio concept allows for the artists to work on their own projects as they see fit, promoting independence, pride in their work, and fostering each person's own unique and individual style. 

Studio assistants might help an artist find a book for reference, or offer words of encouragement, but artists are free to create whatever they want.

The goal is that one day they can begin to exhibit and sell their artworks, too.

“This concept has produced artists exhibited throughout the world,” Marcellini said.

STEP-affiliated thrift stores and donation centers in Dearborn Heights, Southgate, and Wayne help the organization raise money and provide employment to their clients at the same time.