Bay City artists find gateway to friendships, new experiences

In a glass-fronted building that once was a downtown auto dealership, Bay City-area artists are falling in love with brushes, paint, pencils, and chalk.

Some 50 to 60 adults with developmental disabilities and other barriers to employment come to Do-Art each week to learn about famous painters and other artists. They practice the techniques that help polish their work and, perhaps, make them saleable. Some take visual adventures in weaving or paper art. Others focus on chalk and acrylics.

Do-Art, which has existed for 11 years, is an offshoot of Do-All, which has morphed from assembly and manufacturing onsite to jobs in the community that pay at least minimum wages. The purpose of Do-Art isn’t necessarily to make money for artists, although attendees at a recent show bought 23 of more than 30 artworks on display at The Galleria in Uptown Bay City. Do-All President and CEO Chris Girard says Do-Art is one way to help people with disabilities find a niche that fits them while preparing them for the next step in their lives, including employment.

“They also like the friendship,” Do-All Art Director Linda Cassar says. “This is their art family.”

Ashley Murphy started creating chalk and oil pastels at Do-Art seven years ago. She sold a chalk pastel during an exhibit in September in Uptown Bay City.One artist who can attest to this is Ashley Murphy, a shy 41-year-old who started creating chalk and oil pastels at Do-Art seven years ago. She worked at piece-rate assembly before coming to Do-Art. Murphy, whom Cassar calls Murph, stopped in once to see if she could sell a couple of her Sponge Bob creations, and that’s how her love of Do-Art began, Cassar recalls. Murphy started coming on her own, preferring not to wait for the red tape that would make her an official student.

“I just couldn’t wait, so I hopped on a bus,” Murphy says. “The bus lady said ‘You’re not supposed to be here.’ “But I said, ‘I’m here.’”

Do-All President and CEO Chris Girard says Do-Art is one way to help people with disabilities find a niche that fits them while preparing them for the next step in their lives, including employment.Murphy sold one of her chalk pastels, called “Tea for Two,” at the show. She says her fine strokes and bright colors sometimes say more than she can say in words. She draws animals, trees, and hills, and she’s learning about shading and shadow.

Another artist, Don Miller, 55, says he likes drawing pictures of Jesus and of nature, especially birds. Miller is a wonderful graphite (pencil) artist, Cassar says.

“Art makes me feel good,” Miller says. “I love my work.”

Kara, an artist at Do-Art, learns about color and art techniques as she works on a piece at the studio.Cassar believes art can help people develop artistically, socially and spiritually, regardless of their religious preference.

“Once we find the mechanism to reach their souls, the magic begins,” she says. Of Murphy, she says, “She always has been passionate about art, and very curious.”

She calls Murphy’s drawing capacity phenomenal.

“Her work has an innocence to it, a gentleness to it,” she adds. “Her pictures are joyful in that her choices of colors are bright and happy.”

Art Director Linda Cassar believes art helps people develop artistically, socially, and spiritually.The evolution of Do-Art

Cassar’s path to Do-Art was a circuitous one. She worked as a special education teacher in the 1970s, then for Motorola and later the hospitality industry. But her art, spawned by a combination of self-teaching and art classes, remained a part of her wherever she went. She worked at Bay City’s Studio 23 before Do-All hired her to design an art program about nine years ago.

At Do-Art, students learn to work in a variety of mediums.For several years, Do-Art operated a working gallery in downtown Bay City, but that is no more. Plans are in the works for selling art online, and Cassar believes that will expose the artists and their work to a wider audience and eventually grow their pay.

In the current studio, artists sit at tables and bend over their work. A mural covers half the front of the building and includes colorful silhouettes of the artists painted on the glass. Some sculptures adorn the studio, including a “robotic woman” made from cooking utensils and cookie sheets, Cassar says.

Surrounding them are community donations in the form of furniture, framing equipment, and supplies. Some of the frames come from the Cat’s Meow Thrift Store in Essexville, which is also under the Do-All umbrella. In turn, some of the art created at Do-Art is sold at Cat’s Meow, 1465 W. Center Rd.

A big chunk of Do-Art’s money comes from Bay-Arenac Behavioral Health. The program is an example of how the community supports efforts to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, Cassar says.

The studio is open five days a week and has four art instructors in addition to Cassar. Students are tested for their skill levels and interests, and that makes their work highly individualized. As they learn more, they can see the results of their work and gain confidence to learn at new levels, she adds.

Some 50 to 60 adults with developmental disabilities and other barriers to employment come to Do-Art each week to learn about and create art.Besides art, the students learn chair yoga and movement to music – and sometimes lessons in good behavior. When one woman wandered away from her task and tried to visit with this writer’s guide dog, she was calmly told to return to her seat. Later, she got her chance to visit.

Murphy says she doesn’t want to sell her work, but to display it so she and her friends can come to see it. She also likes to make things to give away.

Like other students, participants learn about the makeup of color, feelings from color such as “warm and “cool,” brush stroke techniques, and which brushes to use for which purposes, Cassar says. They learn about mixed media such as acrylic and string or raffia and how to get the desired effects with specific media.

“It’s all done in a very elementary way,” she adds.

What’s in Murphy’s future? She says she’d like to become a writer and write stories. She’s already written one story to go along with pictures.

Cassar knows programs like this sometimes have to flex as rules and state funding change. Cassar plans to continue applying her considerable energy and rapport toward doing what she loves, then passing that love on to her artists.

“We try to reassure (students) that the program will continue,” she says. “It might not be like it is now. But the staff makes a concentrated effort to reassure our consumers that they will have a place to do art.”

Signup for Email Alerts