Side by Side: Artists meet the Kids in Lexington Arts initiative

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Side by Side
Artists meet the kids this week

BY KIM THOMAS

 

With the last two years’ success stories fresh in their minds, physician Nick Kouns and speech pathologist Diane Mason were excited to sit down at Starbucks and discuss what’s next for their brainchild, Side by Side, a six-week award-winning model Arts program at Cardinal Hill for children with disabilities. On April 21 and 22, the participants and their families now look forward to the moment when each child will be paired with a regional artist, and together they will create a collaborative piece of art reflective of their individual strengths as artists.

Kouns and Mason explained how their idea for this art-smeets- healthcare program had grown into a successful initiative that has been nationally recognized by an Award in Excellence in Education and considered a role model for other programs.

[Profiled in Ace coverstory, June 19, 2008.]
This collaboration was also the recipient of the prestigious MediStar Award, which recognizes outstanding, innovative healthcare practices in the Bluegrass region. Kouns points out that the need for such a collaboration in Kentucky is clear: “Kentucky ranks number 3 in the country, with the third highest incidence of children and young adults ages 5-20, with disabilities, with an incidence rate of 9.6 percent.”

Mason says, “The model of the Side by Side program at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital is the product of a discussion between two friends who had a passion for helping children with disabilities and a desire to make a bridge with the community through the arts.”

Cardinal Hill’s Trish Roberts Hatler says, “Based on their experiences in the program, the children gain newfound or expanded artistic talent, an increased ability to function in social or group situations (socialization), and increased self esteem and boosted confidence. The Side by Side program is important to our patients, our staff and as a model of art in healthcare, the citizens of the Commonwealth.”

Mary Claire O’Neal, Program Director for VSA arts of Kentucky [Exceptional Children Services] agrees. “With the Lexington Side by Side we have a teaching artist doing studio classes with the kids in addition to their physical therapists also being a part of the program at Cardinal Hill. The Cardinal Hill therapists being on hand is a unique component.”

The exhibit will feature 30 pieces of art, including one piece created by each child during the six-week course, the collaborative pieces, and one work by each participating professional artist. Last year, all 30 works were exhibited together, side by side.

Kouns says that with this program, funded by VSA arts of Kentucky, “the goal is not only to impact the lives of ten children, but also to inspire local artists to become involved with the organization. As more programs like those at Cardinal Hill begin to explore art as a means of therapy, self awareness and growth, the need for local artists who are trained to work in these types of environments will grow.”

Backstory
Kouns explains how Side by Side was formed when, “in the fall of 2004, my best friend’s girlfriend, Diane Mason, and I were having coffee at Starbucks. I had just been asked to sit on the board of directors of the Lexington Art League. I was talking about how I wanted to start a significant
arts outreach program, and Diane had asked me if I was interested in sponsoring an arts day camp at Cardinal Hill. I ended up spending a great deal of time there—asking questions, researching documented benefits from a medical perspective, and launching a fairly exhaustive literature
search. It appealed to my sense of reason that this program had potential. I started contacting people in the disabilities community, and we quickly realized that there was very little
available in the arts for children in Lexington with developmental disabilities. There were some pretty impressive opportunities available for intellectually gifted children over at the Governor’s School for the Arts, but nothing anywhere near that for the segment of the population we were dealing with. In fact, there was nothing at all available. Quite frankly, it stunned us.”

(Latitude is an Award-Winning model Arts program for adults perceived to have disabilities, operated by Bruce Burris and Crystal Bader, downtown on Saunier.)

Kouns says “The model we adopted at the Art League is actually a variation of the statewide program, ‘Side x Side’ that VSA Kentucky advocates and funds. We took their model and added an onsite healthcare provider facilitator. In other words, we took it one step further in placing the program squarely within the context of a healthcare setting. The children have physical therapists, occupational therapists, counselors, and providers onsite. These healthcare providers facilitate the process by adapting the space, tools, and equipment. For example, if a child has difficulties holding a paintbrush, the therapists can make the appropriate changes to the program while it’s in
process. The program is easily reproducible, both on a state and national level. Most communities in the United States have the resources available to emulate this model. If you have a healthcare center and an arts community, you can reproduce this model. I look at this program
like ‘Special Olympics for the arts’. Kentucky has the third highest population of children with disabilities in the United States. We really should be national leaders in addressing equal arts opportunities for children with special needs. We have seen a great deal of interest from some of our local and state-elected officials. For example, Representative Kelly Flood has been
following our program very closely from its inception.”

Flood will be at Cardinal Hill Wednesday, April 22nd, to observe students and artists working on their collaborative art. She says, “We know that creativity is essential to living a
life of meaning. When I learned that Kentucky has the third highest incidence of children and young adults (ages 5-20) in the United States with diagnosed disabilities; and that Kentucky currently has no monies dedicated to art programs for these kids, I decided to act for change. Working with Dr.
Kouns, I am seeking funds for equal access to the arts for young people who live with disabilities — funds that will facilitate collaboration between the arts community, local healthcare institutions and civic organizations across the Commonwealth so all Kentucky’s children will know the
hope, beauty, and freedom of expression found in the arts.”

Kouns says, “In supporting the special needs communities, we show them that we respect them and value them. We remind them (and ourselves) that we are all part of a larger all-inclusive community. Again, our state allots 2.3 million dollars a year for intellectually gifted children to pursue an exemplary program for the arts here in Kentucky. We are trying to provide that same level of opportunity for a broader and more representative population of Kentucky’s children.”

In his role as a physician, Kouns is aware of the many plateaus in which art enhances conventional medical treatment. His assertion that programs like Side by Side can actually reduce the cost of healthcare is supported by evidence.

“This is a well-documented fact in the medical literature. Art in healthcare programs show repeatedly that arts initiatives decrease the length of hospital stays, thereby reducing the overall cost of care. People with cancer require less pain medicine when they are involved in arts initiatives. They report increases in their quality of life across the board. The federal government is currently funding national projects through the Department of Defense using the
arts to treat soldiers returning from Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whether it is Dance Therapy with Sickle Cell Anemia, Voice with burn patients, or Visual Arts Programming with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence (a program currently
underway at the Lexington Art League), these programs provide quantifiable results.”

Kouns advocates, “Let your local and state politicians know that you support equal
arts opportunities for all of Kentucky’s children. Make a phone call or write a letter. Tell a friend about it. I can absolutely promise those that see the show one thing—you will wake up
many mornings afterward with a glad and joyful heart.” ■

Exhibition: June — July
Side by Side Instructors:
Luella Pavey (2009); Christine
Kuhn (2008); Brenda Wirth
(2007)



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