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Arts centre celebrates 10th anniversary

Nina Haggerty Centre opens art doors to adults with developmental disabilities

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 30, 2013 06:00 am

PERMANENT FIXTURE – Edmonton artist Leona Clawson works on an embroidered piece at the Nina Haggerty  Centre for the Arts on Tuesday. The centre caters specifically to artists with developmental disabilities and is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
PERMANENT FIXTURE – Edmonton artist Leona Clawson works on an embroidered piece at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts on Tuesday. The centre caters specifically to artists with developmental disabilities and is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

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It’s the little art studio that could. Last month the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts celebrated its 10th anniversary, an astounding feat considering it started with a vision but very little capital.

“It’s cliché but we’ve always taken that Field of Dreams approach: build it, make it great, then they’ll get it and the money will follow,” explained Paul Freeman, the artistic director and one of the centre’s founders.

“We’re a dynamic and risk-taking bunch. We really had a hard time convincing anyone that this was a good idea before it actually happened but … you walk in and it’s tangible what the value is. It’s not hard to understand.”

The centre is, as Brenda Kim Christiansen describes it, a fully functioning studio that provides ample opportunity and resources for adults with developmental disabilities to develop their artistic abilities. The multi-disciplinary art leaders are not instructors. They simply let the artists’ own interests guide their practice.

“We’re mentoring and encouraging growth. We look at it as a place where they actually are in charge of what they’re doing. No one’s telling them what to do,” Christiansen said. “You want to spend an hour in clay and then come over and paint for awhile? You want to see what it’s like to do some printmaking or glass? They have an independence and control of what they’re doing.”

The 150 members can participate in several kinds of art, with more always in the works. There’s painting, pottery, silk-screening and printmaking, textiles, computer animation, puppetry, even dance and glasswork. Jocelyn Brown also recently set up shop for a short stint as the centre’s writer-in-residence.

“We’re always looking for ways to bring other people in … but that always means writing another grant, finding the money to do that. We all feel very invested in the success of this place,” Christiansen said.

Success is in no short supply. The results can be seen on the walls and felt in the warm energy of the artists at work. There’s a lot of creativity happening all the time and much of the output is captivating.

Leona Clawson is one of the centre’s longest running members and practically a permanent fixture at the place, showing up to create four days a week. She’s involved in painting, pottery and sewing, and had a hand in making some puppets for the Nina Puppet Troupe’s performance of Crowns, Crooks and Cowboys.

Clawson said that she loves the place because she gets to be herself.

“It’s wonderful! The reason why it’s wonderful is because you come and do your own thing. I can bloom all over the place!” she exclaimed with a hearty smile and a giggle.

She will be having a solo show of her work in the near future. The centre also has exhibit space at the NHCA Stollery Gallery. This space now features French Roofs, a series of watercolours by artist Malcolm Johnson. The show runs until next Friday.

Christiansen added that she gets a lot out of working with the artists.

“It’s addictive, this place. It just gets in you. Lots of cool things are happening,” she said.

Freeman said that there are a lot of smart artists making amazing art and he is thankful to have supporters to keep things running and making positive change in the community.

“Sure there’s lots of cool art but that’s peripheral in a way to … this transformation of a personal narrative from ‘I was born with a disability’... to ‘my story is about making art, it’s about what I do and who I am, not the circumstances that life has handed to me.’ Ultimately the whole community’s narrative should be transformed about what people can do.”

The Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts is located at 9225 118 Avenue in Edmonton. Call 780-474-7611 or visit for more information.


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