The Story Behind “Penguins”

By Patty Mitchell

Featured Image: “Little Penguin” by Elizabeth Gould

Located in Athens, Ohio, Passion Works Studio supports collaborations between artists with and without developmental disabilities. The studio began as an experiment in 1996: what would happen if I set up a collaborative art studio within a sheltered workshop, a supported work place for people with developmental disabilities? A grant from the Ohio Arts Council allowed us to put the idea in motion, and through additional grants and sales a second professional artist was added to the staff, Wendy Minor. Wendy and I brought to the table our understanding of materials and our art process; the participating individuals brought with them their unique way of experiencing the world and a natural ability of fearlessly jumping into art-making. For fifteen years now, Passion Works has offered a relaxed and informative environment for people to collaborate and investigate ideas. The synergy of excitement and discovery is conveyed in the resulting artwork: playful, vibrant, unpredictable.

When I was invited by the Ohio Arts Council to participate in an international cultural exchange at a center serving people with disabilities in Chile, it occurred to me—What was keeping a person with a disability from doing the same thing? It was nothing more than a lack of opportunity/invitation.

“Penguins,” the artwork featured on the cover of this issue of New Ohio Review, was one result of this exchange. Lenka Guisande, the artist I had worked with in Punta Arenas, Chile, was the Art Director at Colores del Alma, an organization similar to ours. Lenka traveled to Athens, Ohio (again through the financial aid of the Ohio Arts Council), and worked at Passion Works Studio for a week. She brought with her several drawings and unfinished art pieces made by Chilean artists with developmental disabilities. She shared photographs of the Chilean artists, pointed out her town on a map, shared artwork from her studio as well as a little bit of Spanish, and invited the Passion Works artists to respond to the unresolved art from Chile. Some of the Chilean drawings were enlarged on copier, while others were presented on fabric, and the Ohio artists painted, drew, collaged. One artist made a beautiful watercolor that became the background for the penguins. Passion Works Artist-in-Residence Wendy Minor painted and collaged the Chilean artist Catalina Mayanz’s penguin drawing with the background painting by Ohio artist Carly Holland. Five other artworks were created during this exchange and have since been made into greeting cards and gift items whose sales help to support ongoing projects.

We feel this artwork is a testament to the kind of energy and creativity that can be sparked by encouraging communal work. None of us could have done this alone; we are interdependent and better for embracing the collaborative experience.

Patty Mitchell is a working artist and social entrepreneur specializing in collaborations between artists with and without developmental disabilities. She has been an Artist-in-Residence for the Ohio Arts Council since 1994 and works internationally, facilitating start-up collaborative studios. Mitchell works as a consultant through Norwich Consulting Services and received her BFA and MFA from Ohio University’s Fine Art Photography program. Mitchell has received a Distinguished Alumna Award from Ohio University’s College of Fine Art, Ohioana Citation for Art and Education, Individual Artist Award from the Ohio Arts Council, Citizen of the Year from Athens Civitan and The Keystone Award from Ohio University for outstanding community service.

Originally appeared in NOR 11.

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