There is an air of calm that settles over the excited group in the activity room, as they concentrate on making. Some get immersed in process, maybe taking off from an element of the work on view, repeating a motion, a gesture, extending and developing it. Others might become highly attuned to details, elaborating densely packed works in miniature.
"My favorite thing to do is art,” says one of the students, and the pride is evident. Students would return with family to the Learning and Creativity gallery, where their works are often hung. The last few years have required some adjustments.
“Visiting the museum and being able to participate in actual hands-on projects was wonderful,” Smith. Of course, the pandemic put a halt to that. Eventually, the program, under the lead of Robert Allen, the Art on the Go/Creative Connections Educator—affectionately Mr. Bobby—transitioned to a virtual gathering, where he is still able to teach about the works in the gallery and provide activities.
Smith says, “The virtual lessons were just as important, and our students adjusted accordingly, getting just as pumped for our monthly lessons.”
"Working with the STAR program is a very meaningful and rewarding experience. Every participant in the program brings their own aesthetic and style to their work, and it’s wonderful to see their enthusiasm for learning about the art featured at AK Northland and the permanent collection!" says Allen.
Allen, thankfully, has been able to return to the classroom, traveling to the STARS classrooms themselves to provide in-person instruction.
That kind of continued interaction is important. “It feels like you're also building a personal connection. You get to know the students a little better, and they feel more comfortable with you,” Duval says. “They feel more comfortable speaking, they feel comfortable greeting you or saying goodbye. And all of these things are just a big deal if you're navigating the world while being on the spectrum.”
As she looks ahead to the reopening of the museum as the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Duval notes the expanded space for Learning and Creativity, including new classrooms and workshops—and the all-important space to display students’ work.
The accessibility work at the museum is about equality, and giving people a place and inclusion. People have a kind of a right to come and to see. It's important that we make a provision for specialized group visits that allow people to feel really comfortable and make a repeat visit.”
STARS is evidence of what that commitment can bring. When the museum reopens, the Learning and Creativity team only hopes for more. Besides, as one STARS students says, "It is very cool."
Organizations that provide services for people with disabilities are invited to schedule free individualized group sessions through our Creative Connection program. If you or anyone you know belongs to such an organization, please feel free to get in touch with us. For more information, or to schedule a virtual session, please contact Access & Community Programs Coordinator Karen Duval at 716.270.8249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.