Artists come in all shapes and sizes, and every artist brings a unique perspective to the world.  For several years, ArtsWave has partnered with a number of arts organizations whose primary focus area is serving individuals with disabilities of all kinds (physical, mental, emotional). These "very special arts" groups are sometimes part of healthcare or social service agencies or independent arts organizations. Their impact extends beyond the individual artists they serve and into the broader community.

For example, Visionaries + Voices provides representation, studio space, supplies, and support to more than 140 visual artists with disabilities. Originally created by two social service workers at the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, the organization now boasts two working artist galleries (Northside and Sharonville) and offers numerous outreach and educational opportunities to the general public utilizing their artists.  In addition, V+V artists actively contribute to the greater arts community through creative, educational, and strategic partnerships.  Artists receive training to work in local classrooms, guiding students of all ages and abilities in a variety of art forms.  These teaching opportunities build the artist’s confidence and presentation skills, and help develop students’ understanding of and empathy for people with disabilities.

Another organization that provides opportunities for artists with disabilities is the Art Beyond Boundaries Gallery, a professional, main-stream fine art exhibition venue where local and regional artists with disabilities display, market, and sell their artwork. Its artists include those suffering from mental illness, addiction, developmental disabilities and more.  Its mission provides innovative programs to help the community break down attitudinal, and programmatic barriers to encourage full participation and inclusion of adults and children with disabilities as both patrons and artists.

The performing arts can also be a powerful outlet for creative expression, regardless of a person’s physical or mental disability. Melodic Connections is an organization comprised of board certified music therapists dedicated to empowering the lives of special needs individuals through musical expression and performance.  The organization provides adaptive group guitar and piano lessons to exceptional children, adolescents, and adults, many with Downs Syndrome.  Such services are in high demand, and Melodic Connections understands that fees can be prohibitive for some families so it delivers its services at low to no cost.   Dramakinetics of Cincinnati uses theater performance to teach arts integrated developmental skills to children and adults of all abilities, including those along the Autism spectrum and both with and without developmental issues. Performing together, children and adults of all abilities work to fulfill their full creative potential while also developing strong social skills and bonds.

By connecting individuals with disabilities to the arts, these organizations provide them with an outlet for individual creative expression and engagement with the broader community.  It’s an important way that the arts bring people together and reinforce the value of inclusion, showing that all people have stories to share.