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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, March 08, 2002

Developing artists Developing artists (March 08, 2002)

Palo Alto artist Judy Gittelsohn gives adults with disabilities a chance to express themselves

by Amy Goodpaster Strebe

From simple stick figures to abstract expressionism, "How to Ride the Bus" isn't your average art exhibition. Created by 10 developmentally disabled adults, the 19 pieces in the show represent their take on riding the bus.

Running through March 29 at Palo Alto City Hall, the exhibit, under the guidance of local artist Judy Gittelsohn, has given these men and women a vehicle for self-expression.

"I decided to focus the project on the idea of a bus because it was something that they all had in common," Gittelsohn said. "I asked myself what was common in their day, and since many of them are wheelchair-bound, the bus serves an important purpose in their lives."

The organization that brought Gittelsohn together with the artists is the Palo Alto-based Community Association for Rehabilitation, which supports and promotes the achievements of people with developmental disabilities, so they can continue to be valued members of the community.

The project began last March with a $10,000 grant from Arts Council Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The objective is to create a book entitled "How to Ride the Bus: A Perspective." A total of 1,000 copies were printed, which are available at Stanford's Cantor Art Center bookshop and the Linden Tree bookstore in Los Altos. She hopes to continue the series of occupational handbooks.

"My ultimate goal is to open up an art center here on the Peninsula for people with developmental disabilities," she said.

The idea for the book grew out of an experience Gittelsohn had working on a collaborative public art mural at Creativity Explored II, an art center in San Francisco. Working with disabled artist Michael Loggins, Gittelsohn began to realize the benefits of painting for the disabled.

"All of a sudden they have a voice, perhaps for the first time," she said. "It's like when you learn a foreign language and you can now communicate with someone who shares that language.

"Art is a language that these people can communicate to the world. To be able to offer someone an avenue to express themselves is amazing. It's what life's about."

Gittelsohn said the artists present a variety of styles in their work -- some abstract, others representational. One work, entitled "Santa Cruz," is a vibrant patch of blue created by Noel Pino. Another artist, Peter Untch, whose vocabulary consists of 10 words, named his orange and pink painting "Ohio," where he had previously lived and a word he says frequently.

"I was overwhelmed by their desire to paint," Gittelsohn said. "A lot of them couldn't even hold a paintbrush in their hand. These people were so much fun to be with, and their artwork is beautiful."

Because many developmentally disabled adults are unable to hold a job, they are often placed in the roles of consumers rather than producers, Gittelsohn said.

"Their artwork is something that they can put back into the world, and it's a big reward for everyone," she said. "This project has been tremendously rewarding for me. And the artists are really looking forward to it."

What: "How to Ride the Bus" exhibit.

Where: Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave. in Palo Alto

When: Through March 29. The exhibit can be viewed weekdays from

Cost: Admission is free.

Info: Call (650)
There will be an artists' reception on March 21 at 6 p.m. at Palo Alto City Hall. inspired by a page booklet by the same name


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