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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Art center for disabled apt use of hospital

Talk of the old Waimano Training School and Hospital can dredge up bitter memories for those who had relatives, friends or were themselves institutionalized at the Pearl City facility for the severely developmentally retarded.

As part of a trend toward deinstitutionalization, Waimano Hospital residents were mainstreamed into the community. The home was closed in 1999, and much of it has remained empty and neglected.

But a seed has been planted that will hopefully eclipse the hospital's painful past and bring new life to the place.

Hawai'i Artspace, an arts-focused creative industries school, opened last weekend at Waimano Training School and Hospital as an arts center for the disabled.

Walls have been freshly painted and studios have been built, transforming the barren institution into a place of light and creativity.

The goal of the center is to give artists with disabilities a place to learn, work and be part of a successful creative industries enterprise, according to Susan Miller of the University of Hawai'i College of Education Center on Disability Studies.

She estimates there are 240,000 adults with disabilities in Hawai'i and nearly 75 percent of them are unemployed.

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.

Most states have VSA (very special arts) programs intended to provide access to the arts for the disabled and otherwise disadvantaged. But many are way ahead of Hawai'i.

Oakland, Calif., for example, built its thriving Creative Growth Art Center in 1973. It caters to adults with mental, emotional and physical disabilities, providing them with creative art programs, educational and independent living training, counseling and vocational opportunities.

One of its artists is Judith Scott, who was born with Down syndrome and can neither hear nor speak. She spent most of her life isolated with very little concept of language and no grasp of art.

At age 44, after 35 years in an institution, Scott was taken to Creative Growth by her twin sister and fell in love with fiber art. She has been able to communicate through that medium, creating elaborate labyrinths of yarn and found objects, and has caught the attention of art collectors and art critics around the world.

There's no reason why the Hawai'i Artspace can't also inspire such talents as Judith Scott. This is an exciting development for both the arts and the disabled communities in Hawai'i. We'd like to see it thrive.