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Art and Advocacy at the East Meadow Art Gallery

Art and Advocacy at the East Meadow Art Gallery

Categories: Agency Excellence, Blog, Featured News

At AHRC’s East Meadow Art Gallery, time is of the essence as artists prepare for their spring exhibit, “A Day at the Beach,” opening May 1.

Artist Davis Hernandez recently completed a lighthouse paper mâché sculpture and mermaid painting to include in the collection.

An artist shows off her painting at the East Meadow Art Gallery“Five months,” teased Margaret Dunor-Collins, AHRC Art Gallery Assistant Manager, as Davis walked towards his five-foot sculpture.

Davis laughed explaining his process. “It took me five months to do. It’s a lot — a lot of work, a lot of paper mache-ing. It was a very hard puzzle to put together.” The lighthouse they worked on together. The mermaid, Davis created alone.

Davis has been an artist at the gallery for six years, after transferring from a day program in Bellmore with fewer activities due to a lack of staff. So far, he has been enjoying his time at the art gallery.

“I love being here. This place is like my second home,” shared Davis.

The East Meadow Art Gallery provides site-based, day habilitation services with a focus on art to adults with I/DD. The artists’ highly sought-after work can be found throughout the agency. “Wonder Full World” hangs proudly outside AHRC’s Executive Office in Brookville with a gold placard recognizing the artistry of Myriann Damas, Miguel Rosado, Richard Infante, and Donna Nowakoski. Richard Infante, one of the art gallery’s artists, has sold many paintings and even had two shipped to an art connoisseur in the Midwest.

Preparing for the exhibit is an important part of each artist’s schedule. On a typical day, the artists arrive promptly at nine, settle in, group up with their mentor, and get to work. As of this spring, the site is home to twenty-four artists who work with six mentors.

The mentors support each artist in fulfilling their unique goals and dreams. They are also integral to fulfilling the agency’s vision to foster a world where people of all abilities are valued.
The experiences, challenges, and goals of each person matter and the agency closely monitors their success through Personal Outcome Measures® (POM). POM is a person-centered discovery process exploring the presence, importance, and achievement of personally defined outcomes, along with the supports that help people attain their individual goals.
POM goals are developed with agency employees trained and certified in conducting POM interview on a bi-annual basis.

Staff members are empowered to support these outcomes through information sharing.

At the Art Gallery, Manager, Lisa Moosmueller, receives the information, creating a plan of action. Lisa meets with each artist in a pre-life plan meeting where they evaluate their POM report and then develops a plan to guide the staff on which activities best meet the artists’ interests.

These personalized life plans are designed to give the artists autonomy over their lives. Goals are adjusted to an artist’s specific wants and abilities, and they work together with their mentors to fulfill the individually set goals.

Andrew Deeley, who lives at home but has a large family spread across the country, wanted to foster deeper connections with his relatives. After a brainstorming session with his mentor, he now creates postcards and letters to mail out to distant family members. He also keeps a scrapbook to collect his family’s replies. These activities not only cultivate his artistic nature but also meet the personal mandate he set.

Unlike the gallery’s artists, the staff does not come in with art skills. Some may have artistic inclinations like Direct Support Professional, Maia Cadle, a new mentor who has been acclimating herself to the space. Maia has experience with drawing and graphic design, and makes use of her skills assisting artists like Kurt and Lynn with their decoupage and line work; an art style where pieces are made with clean smooth lines and curves.

Along with helping the artists with their artwork, the mentors who are Direct Support Professionals (DSP), assist the artists with their special needs. The needs of the people supported by AHRC services vary across the agency, which means support staff develop special bonds with the artists by helping them with daily living.

Some artists may need assistance using the bathroom, and their mentor would help them move from a wheelchair to a commode. They assist them during lunchtime as some of the artists have eating guidelines and may come into harm’s way with certain foods.

The DSPs can also help artists comply with their medications by supporting medication-taking behaviors, maintaining their hygiene, and even transporting them around to residences and field trips.

Low wages and a lack of funding have made working as a direct support professional (DSP) challenging. The revolving door of staff turnover has put a strain on an already razor-thin workforce. An artist creates beach-themed artwork at East Meadow Art Gallery

When speaking on the staffing difficulties felt by the agency, Lisa revealed, “It affects every aspect of this program, from transportation to the type of engagement that you can offer all of the artists, to staff burnout… and production in an art gallery, what we can actually produce. Staffing shortages affect all of this.”

Staffing issues are likely a result of the slow wage growth for support staff. While many industries have heeded the call to raise the pay rate, DSPs are still making a nominal wage which has left staff looking for additional ways to supplement their income. This is an ongoing problem, as disability support workers have been reeling from more than a decade of underfunding. A loss totaling over $2.6 billion, according to an NPR report, across disability service organizations.

This devastating loss has led to a reduction in available programs, services, and spaces for the intellectual and developmental disability community. AHRC and partner organizations have increased advocacy efforts as a response to the negative impacts of chronic underfunding.

“I know for a fact that I have wonderful staff here, that are working second jobs because they can’t live on the current rate of pay,” explained Lisa.

“They give their 100% but I can’t even imagine what they would give if they were making a decent wage and didn’t have to work that second job.”

Despite the issues, the staff continues to make it work, supporting the artists as best they can. The artists are also staunch supporters of their DSPs, creating posters with them, rallying together, and advocating for change.

During Developmental Disability Awareness Month, self-advocates and their support staff engaged legislators in Long Island and Albany to support an 8.5% cost of living adjustment in the New York State FY 2024 Executive Budget.

Self-advocates Richard Infante, Ann Berris, Jody Gallagher, and Krystle Quinones rallied with Direct Support Professionals Debra Morrocu and Maia Cadle from the art gallery.

All this advocacy is done to attain funding needed to sustain and increase crucial services that help artists lead fulfilling lives.

There is a creative energy that flows through the gallery, and it may even be contagious. Margaret, the gallery’s Assistant Manager, has begun taking art classes to cultivate her artistry and better support the artists.

“I love being here [at the art gallery] because I learn so much from them. They inspire me every day to live, learn, and try new things,” said Margaret.