By Tim Leeds
Artwork featured in a 2005 calendar - including works by two local artists - is now adorning the walls of Art in the Atrium.
All of the work was created by artists with developmental disabilities.
"One of our goals is to have art opportunities outside of our services, and the calendar is one way to do that," said Frances Pearson, director of arts and recreation at Opportunity Resources Inc. of Missoula, the organization that produced the New Images calendar. "The calendar itself, we put that out as a way to give people with disabilities a way to show their work."
Work by Nick Fry of Big Sandy appears on the February page, and artwork by Walter Bryan of Havre appears on the back of the calendar.
The collection of orginal pieces featured in the calendar is on tour in Montana. This month it is in Havre, after opening at the Dana Gallery in Missoula - "the biggest gallery in town," Pearson said - and will travel to the Capitol Rotunda in Helena for the month of April.
Bryan and Fry will be honored at a reception in the Atrium gallery, soon to be renamed Artitude, on Feb. 12 from 3 to 5 p.m.
Rebecca Hargis of Opportunity Resources Inc. in Havre said the organization hopes to have the traveling display in or near every town that has a contributing artist by the end of the year.
Pearson said a hotel in downtown Missoula has offered Opportunity Resources a storefront to use as a gallery space for artists with developmental disabilities.
Hargis said art is helpful to people with developmental disabilities in many ways.
"It's art being a good communication tool," she said.
Developmental disabilities are defined by the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as "a diverse group of severe chronic conditions that are due to mental and/or physical impairments" including mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy, hearing loss and vision impairment. The conditions can cause problems with life activities such as communication, mobility, learning and independent living, the CDC Web site said.
Hargis said Bryan, who has had shows called "Walter Bryan and Friends" for several years in Great Falls, literally uses art to communicate. Bryan has a hard time expressing himself verbally, and sometimes becomes frustrated and angry, she said. His artwork gives him another way to communicate.
When she asked him about a year and a half ago if he wanted to start coming to the Havre Day Activity Center, he later presented her with a picture. It was a detailed, easily recognizable drawing of the activity center, with the caption "Back to School in Havre, MT," written on it.
"This is one way to be sure Walter is telling you what he wants," Hargis said.
Pearson said several pieces of Bryan's artwork - as well as some of Fry's - were added to the display when it came to Havre. The Bryan piece that's in the calendar isn't on display.
"It actually sold in the Dana Gallery," Pearson said.
The calendar normally sells for $7 but is now being sold for $5, since the year is partly over. The money raised generally doesn't do more than pay for producing the calendar, Pearson said.
Any amount over the cost of producing the calendar is used to promote the arts and recreation activities at Opportunity Resources, he said.
He said a judge picks what art will be placed in the calendar each year from submissions by artists from across the state. The calendar is in its 11th year.
This year the judge - an artist in Missoula - focused on colors.
"I think it turned out to be one of the more colorful calendars we've put out," he said.
Pearson said a goal of the arts and recreation department at Opportunity Resources is to give people with disabilities a creative outlet that's meaningfull in their lives.
"Visual art is really accessible," he said.
Another is helping people with disabilities integrate with other people in their community.
Jean Denning, executive director of Big Sandy Activities, said that also is a function of the Tumbleweed Gallery, a subsidiary of Big Sandy Activities.
A primary reason the gallery was opened in 2002 was to give Fry a place to work and to display his art, but also to give other Big Sandy Activities clients a place to interact with the community.
Denning said that is one of Tumbleweed Gallery's successes. Fry creates art in his studio in the gallery virtually every day, but other clients also go to the gallery.
"We use it as a way to be in the community," Denning said.
Some of the art displayed in the gallery is made by Big Sandy Activities clients in a workshop at the activity center. Denning said the clients get excited when they see their work in the gallery.
"That's really fun," she said.
Another success is the gallery's business. Denning said Big Sandy Activities' board of directors has approved keeping the gallery open another year, because last year, for the first year, it broke even.
"We nowhere near broke even the first year," she added.
Pearson said a goal of producing the calendar is to increase community interaction. The calendar shows that people with disabilities don't have to be shut off from the rest of society.
"I think it's important to have this work out there so people can see the creative ability people have regardless of their disability," he said. "It's one of the things that's out there, and people can see the artwork that people with disabilities can do."
Also, said Pearson, who has a master of fine arts degree, "In my opinion, it's really fine art."