Life-size pieces of art, cutting-edge choreography, dramatic works, and imaginative writings have all been created by individuals with disabilities at Arts Access, a pioneering multi-disciplinary arts program established in November of 1993. The first of its kind, the model project has been the blueprint that allows disabled adults to make art on their own terms and laid the groundwork for other programs to follow.
The brainchild of former Matheny Medical Director Dr. Gabor Barabas and his wife Suzanne, Arts Access started as a pilot program with a $35,000 grant from the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation. With its unique art development and communication systems, the pioneering experiment broke the mold of what had previously been done with art programs for people with disabilities. The Robert Schonhorn Arts Center, where the programs take place, was built in 2000.
Working outside of their perceived limitations, individuals with physical and cognitive developmental disabilities began painting works honed in the tradition of abstract expressionism, futurism, primitive expressionism, and more. Modern and ballet dances featuring wheelchair-bound and able-bodied dancers, imaginative creative writings, and amusing and dramatic skits soon followed.
Moved by what they saw, the community offered positive and encouraging responses during the program’s early years. Those accolades continue today. Since Arts Access’ inception, clients have sold many pieces of art and performed their works in front of thousands of patrons, family members, and friends.
Over time, it had become evident that the Arts Access program is filling a void. Several of the clients’ artwork have been exhibited in galleries at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, Bristol-Myers Squibb, ABC World Headquarters, the Newark Museum, and the Ellarslie Museum. Performances have been held at the NJ State Museum. Arts Access has also been featured in a number of media outlets including CBS Evening News.
In its early stages, Arts Access focused on the visual arts. Since that time, the program has grown to include other disciplines such as dance, drama, and writing. Throughout its existence, Arts Access has stood by the notion that the arts enhance the quality of life of people living with disabilities. That belief is made into reality with the sense of accomplishment experienced by each client and with every completed piece of art.