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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 19, 2004

Arts learning center comes to the aid of disabled

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Liz Clavin, left, a volunteer, helps Cavin Castaneda and Michael Chee Jr., right, hang pictures at Hawai'i Artspace at Waimano Home Road in Pearl City. Hawai'i Artspace is a state Department of Health program designed to train people with disabilities to cultivate their talents for the arts and to make a decent living doing it.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The former Waimano Home in Pearl City will reopen today, not with its previous function as a training school/hospital but as a center for the creative arts.

Hawai'i Artspace, an arts-focused, creative industries vocational school, will hold its grand opening at the site today and tomorrow. The group's goal is to teach people with disabilities to cultivate their talents for the arts and learn to make a decent living doing it.

Susan Miller, with the University of Hawai'i College of Education Center on Disability Studies, said there are 240,000 adults with disabilities in Hawai'i between the ages of 18 and 65, and nearly 75 percent of them are unemployed.

"There are many artists with developmental and other disabilities," said Miller. "Some are university students with learning disabilities, some are artists with autism, some are from pro-minent families. This is an opportunity for people with developmental and other disabilities to carve out careers for themselves in a way that nobody probably ever thought possible."

Miller said the clients will be trained in many aspects of the art world, not only creating and marketing their own works, but in filling other supporting jobs for the performing arts.

Hawai'i Artspace, known as HAPA, is being established because no other place exists to address the needs of this unique population, said Ann Katherine Reimers, board president of VSA arts of Hawai'i-Pacific, the lead nonprofit group behind the center.

"Necessity brings us to this juncture," Reimers said. "There is an emerging statewide coalition promoting creative industries for people with developmental and other disabilities. HAPA is a statewide hub and incubator for skill development, business planning, marketing and development. HAPA will take the existing creative industries in Hawai'i to a new level."

At a glance

• WHO: Hawai'i Artspace

• WHAT: Grand opening celebration

• WHEN: Today, 3-9 p.m. and tomorrow 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

• FEATURING: Art exhibit, entertainment and crafts.

• WHERE: In the old Waimano Training School and Hospital, 1.4 miles up Waimano Home Road from Moanalua Road, Hale C.

The Waimano Training School and Hospital was, for many, a symbol of the community's misunderstanding of mental retardation. Despite efforts to help the patients, Waimano Home was plagued by reports about patients being shackled and sedated; female patients being put on birth control without their consent, and unclean conditions. The home was closed in 1999 and its patients dispersed into the community, mostly in small care homes.

The buildings sat empty for years until recently when state workers, community volunteers and some of the artists helped repair and paint Hale C and set up the program's first art exhibit.

Warren Hiromoto, a Lion Club member and president of the Pearl City Community Association, volunteered to help fix up the center.

Hiromoto said unlike the controversial juvenile sex abuse treatment center the Health Department placed at another site in Waimano Home, this project has community support because of its educational and training focus.

"It's a place for the arts to be exhibited," Hiromoto said. "The building will also be used for community functions. We like what they are doing."

David Fray, chief of the state Health Department's Developmental Disabilities Division, said the program will give people with disabilities a chance to develop their artistic skills that has not existed.

"We are trying to give people the best opportunities they can have; to make life choices that fulfill their dreams," Fray said. "This program will help do that."

Hawai'i Artspace is supported by the state Department of Health, VSA arts of Hawai'i-Pacific, the University of Hawai'i and several other private and nonprofit groups.

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.