By Amanda Thomas
First-through 12th-grade Texas students with disabilities have been given the chance to display their artwork at the Baylor School of Social Work. The school partnered with Artsonia.com, a website that archives student art pieces from around the world to create an exhibit showing how students with disabilities view the world.
The exhibit is on display at the School of Social Work building, located at 811 Washington Avenue and is open to the public.
“We started out by asking ourselves, ‘How do we teach mental health to children?’” Dr. James Ellor, professor of social work, said.
Ellor said he worked with social work lecturer Becky Scott and adjunct professor Tracey Kelley, director of recruitment, career services and alumni relations in the School of Social Work, to find a way for students with disabilities to have their voices heard. They were seeking a way in which other children could learn more about mental health and disabilities, he said, which is the purpose of the exhibit. “The fact is that they’re living with this in their classrooms, and we want them to understand it,” Ellor said.
Ellor said they felt this would best be expressed through artwork, so they looked for a museum with an exhibit about mental health to work with before creating their own. Ellor said the museums they looked into had displays of electric shock therapy equipment and vials of medicine, but not the type of child-friendly display they had in mind.
The project to create the exhibit was conducted by social work graduate students in the form of an academic independent study course titled “Children’s Art in the Museum: Explaining Psycho-Pathology to Children.”
Artsonia provided the artwork for the graduate students to choose from for the exhibit. The graduate students then interviewed the artists of each selected work.
Ellor said the interview serves as a biography of the artist and allows it to explain the work for the viewer, as well as what it meant to them.
“Before the students interviewed the artists, we sat [the graduate students] down and had them attempt to recreate the [children’s] art pieces using the same medium,” Ellor said, “so they could experience making the artwork, and so they would know what questions to ask during the interview.”
The exhibit features the children’s artwork with a picture of the child who created it, as well as the interview below the work, Ellor said.
Diona Cortez, a graduate student at the School of Social Work and one of the students in the course, has had previous experience working with children with disabilities and said she wanted to continue working with students using art. “I enjoy the creative nature of working with kids and the therapeutic use of art,” Cortez said. “It was amazing to see the artwork and how it can allow a child to express something that they can’t verbally communicate.”
Ellor said the exhibit can be experienced at two levels — one level is to simply look at the artwork; the second level is to read the biographies and artists’ interpretations.
“Reading all of the labels will tie you into the picture because you will see the artist’s perception,” Ellor said. One of Ellor’s favorite pieces is from a child that has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
The artwork depicts a zoo, but instead of the animals sitting in a uniform fashion in cages, the animals are sprawled all over the canvas and overlapping one another. “The artist wanted the audience to see how he perceives the world,” Ellor said. “This is his message.”