Adults with Disabilities Discover Unlimited Artistic Talents

Artist Lee Papierowicz performing on stage in the Robert Schonhorn Arts Center.
written by Sanford Josephson

Carly Finley, a 28-year-old resident of Flemington, paints, dances, choreographs, and creates digital art . . . Thirty-nine-year-old Isabell Villacis of Bound Brook dances, paints, creates 3-D sculptures, and is working on a book about her life as an artist . . . Lee Cramer Papierowicz, 22, of Monmouth Junction is inspired by music videos and just completed a painting called “Crazy Zebra.” “My mind,” she says proudly, “is crazy.”

Finley, Villacis, and Papierowicz all have cerebral palsy and are savoring the opportunity to create fine art through the Matheny Medical and Educational Center’s Arts Access Program. Matheny is a special hospital and educational facility in Peapack for children and adults with medically complex developmental disabilities. Arts Access empowers individuals with disabilities to create art without boundaries through the use of innovative systems and techniques.

Fundamental to the program is the work of professional artists who function as facilitators, following instructions of artists with disabilities who may not be able to use their arms or may  only be able to communicate with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ signal.

Carly Finley performing at Full Circle 2018

Facilitator Joe Matousek has watched Finley “grow over the years into an outstanding artist. Little by little, Carly has tried a variety of painting techniques. She uses our studio charts to make her selections (color, shape, brush stroke, etc.), but she pushes herself to grab from the charts and hold tools. Her particularly adept use of adaptive gear has enabled her to paint, finger paint, and draw on her own effortlessly with facilitator assistance.”

Finley is non-verbal. She communicates, her mother, Toni, says by “blinking her eyes or smiling. Matousek says she communicates with him “by smiling and squeezing my hand for ‘yes’ and a head turn to the side for ‘no’.” Toni Finley calls Arts Access a “magical place. Carly is more relaxed after she comes here. They treat her like an adult; they bring out the best in her. She loves the whole concept of being in charge of her own decisions.”

A highlight of Finley’s participation in Arts Access was a dance she choreographed and performed at Full Circle: Then and Now, the 25th anniversary celebration of Arts Access, held in November 2018. “I couldn’t believe what Corey Bliss, the dance facilitator, was able to accomplish with Carly,” says Toni Finley. “It was beyond my expectations.” Bliss, now Client Services & Studio Manager for DanceBody in Brooklyn, describes Carly as “very hands-on as a dancer and choreographer. She absolutely loves music, and it was great to watch her discover how to add her body as another instrument to the melodies she connects to most. Her favorite genres are classical and country. That was a very interesting contrast that she explored in her sessions . . . Her signals were very subtle — a slight hand squeeze or a smile — but her intention was always undeniably clear.”

Isabell Villacis at work in the painting studio

Villacis has been coming to Arts Access for eight years. What she likes most about the program is that, “I can be myself, be the person that I truly am.” She particularly likes to create digital art and sculptures. “It’s fun and exciting.” Her writing, she adds, enables her “to come out of my shell. I express a lot of my feelings in my writing.” Peter Giessner, Arts Access Writing Facilitator, points out that Villacis, “is very attuned to what’s going on in the world. She writes about shootings, bullying, discrimination against the LGBT community. Her writing is very personal.” Andrew Edge, Visual Arts Coordinator, adds that, “It is obvious Isabell spends time outside Arts Access thinking about what she wants to do. Often, she will arrive with a text on her phone that she wants to incorporate into her digital painting.”

Villacis feels “very fortunate to be part of this wonderful program. The professional team I’m working with is wonderful. They believe in me, and I believe in myself as an artist and as a person.” Her biggest inspiration, though, is her mother, Ana. “She motivates me to keep doing my artwork and my writing.” The great thing about Arts Access, says Ana Villacis, is “there are no limitations. Isabell can do whatever is in her mind.”

Painting by Lee Papierowicz

Papierowicz has only been a part of Arts Access since March, switching from another arts program that did not offer her as much freedom. She met Matousek at an art exhibit in Princeton. “Lee got my attention,” Matousek recalls, “and brought me over to where her artwork was hanging. She has really taken to the program. She is having a blast experimenting with all the different techniques and the freedom to just have fun and explore her creative sides.” Unlike many artists, he adds, “she quickly changes her style with each one of her paintings.”

While she is passionate about visual art and dance, they are just one part of Papierowicz’s personality, which doesn’t let her disability restrict her in any way. She likes the outdoors and skis with adaptive equipment. She loves football, and is a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. She has a boyfriend who lives in West Virginia. They met on Facebook, and she and her family have visited him. While attending the Lakeview School, a private special education school in Edison, she also participated as a cheerleader for her district’s high school, South Brunswick. One of her favorite musical performers is Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, and actress Demi Lovato, but she also likes Beethoven and Strauss.

“Lee,” Matousek says, “is one of the sweetest artists I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. She always comes into the studio with a smile and positive attitude.”

Adults with disabilities can participate in Arts Access through a number of ways:

  • Arts Access is an approved Pre-Vocational Service Provider with New Jersey’s Department of Developmental Disabilities’ Supports Program and Community Care Program. Prospective Arts Access participants should contact their Support Coordinators and arrange to add Arts Access to their Service Plans. Support Coordinators work directly with Arts Access Outreach Coordinators to enroll their clients. For more information on the DDD Supports Program visit:
    For more information on the Community Care Program, visit:
  • Arts Access is also an approved vendor with Public Partnerships, a participant directed care program through the State of New Jersey. For those individuals who have not yet rolled over into the DDD Supports Program, Arts Access can bill for services through the Public Partnerships agency. For more information, visit:
  • Adults who are not enrolled in either DDD or Public Partnerships can enroll as a Private Pay client. Invoices are generated at the beginning of each month for the previous month’s services. For more information, call Arts Access’ Outreach Coordinators:
    Andrew Edge (908) 234-0011, ext. 1360 or Heather Williams at (908) 234-0011, ext.1412

Full Circle 2019: Art Without Limits, the annual celebration of the Arts Access Program’s artists and their work, will be held from 3-6 p.m., Saturday, November 2, in the Robert Schonhorn Arts Center on the Matheny campus at 65 Highland Ave. in Peapack. For more information or to order tickets, click here or call Patty Cats at (908) 234-0011, ext. 1260.

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