Professor Alan Powell, Studio 190 Advocate
Media and Communications professor Alan Powell is a leading figure in Studio 190, an art outreach program within the larger nonprofit DelArc, which focuses on promoting personal growth and creativity in people with disabilities.
How did you get involved with Studio 190?
I got involved with Studio 190 formally in the fall of 2017. I have been working with programs related to disabilities in the arts since the late 1970s. I started with the Rhode Island Council of the Arts doing artist-in-residency in the state mental institutions and prisons in 1976. In the 1980s, I worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Education developing art residences with media at all levels, and found that my programs were most successful with the emotionally and socially impaired.
What projects are you working on?
I help Studio 190 bridge the gap between being a social service agency and an art organization. Initially I established benchmarks for good documentation and archiving of their processes. I am developing ways to introduce media as an artistic expression within the community. I am also designing projects that allow the clients of Studio 190 to interact with our Arcadia community. In 2011, I worked with Sutie Madison, an Arcadia art major, to develop choreography and concepts with individuals with Tourette’s.
What are some of the challenges that disability service organizations have when transitioning from a shelter workshop environment to an integrated workspace?
The sheltered workshop concept has been shot down in the courts in a lawsuit against goodwill industries. The lawsuit requires them to integrate clients into a “normal“ work environment and pay minimum wage. The sheltered workshop model had been in place for 40 years, paying on a piecework basis. The response has been to develop arts and crafts type workshops that allow artists to sell their products on the open market. Within the DeArc community, I see about 75 to 80 percent of the clients being able to make the transition. The real issue is whether the Studio 190 can generate real income. Right now they are on a break-even model with supplies. The sheltered workshop generated around $500,000 a year for the facility.
What are the structural conflicts between being a social service agency and functioning as a art/cultural organization?
DelArc is a nationally recognized organization serving adult individuals with disabilities in a primary rural setting. They are a full-service organization that supplies housing therapy and training. The rules and privacy concerns of a medical/social service agency are totally different from an art organization. Art organizations are product- and deadline-oriented. Art organizations need to promote the narratives of the individuals making the art product. This type of PR runs in opposition to the rules of social service agencies who must protect the client privacy and identity. It has been interesting to watch the 190 staff break their own rules in order to promote the art work.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work with Studio 190?
The art workshop “Studio 190” has an impact on those individuals who are actively involved in art making. Their individual artwork and craft is improving, and the artists are developing personal styles.