Inspired HeARTs is a weekly visual art class for children and adults with special needs. A prototype program was developed in partnership with senior art students from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in February 2010 for 10 students ages 10-17 who live with both physical and intellectual disabilities. Today, Inspired HeARTs has three classes each week, serving 30 people ages 10-50. Our students are assisted by volunteer helpers in a 5:1 ratio. Inspired HeARTs follows the academic school year, and culminates with a gallery show of students’ artwork in the spring. This program was created to allow our students to continue their experiences in the arts. Inspired HeARTs students inspire us with their artwork and creativity each week.
Inspired HeARTs uses an interdisciplinary approach to art education. Students learn techniques in numerous fine art and fine craft mediums, and are instructed in methods for accessing multimedia in order to express themselves and communicate with others. Students conceptualize images in two dimensions and three dimensions, each project allowing them to utilize line, form and color to effectively communicate their thoughts and emotions. As many of our students are non-verbal, it is important that they are able to share their ideas no matter how concrete or abstract. Creating visual art can produce lifelong transformative effects on all students.
While in the visual arts classroom, they learn to work collaboratively as an art community to work toward a greater understanding of the world and their peers. The environment of the visual arts classroom prepares students with special needs to become more self-sufficient in the world and to better express themselves. Our interdisciplinary approach gives all students the chance to learn how to take direction, how to break tasks into digestible units and how to use higher order cognition to find creative solutions to the numerous and varied problems that arise when they are active in the creative process.