‘Celebrating Abilities’ showcases work by passionate Richmond artists

In the art room the Richmond Society for Community Living’s Avenues program, a group of seven artists work on pieces for their Christmas show.

Some paint, one sketches and one works on stringing beads to a piece of driftwood to create a mobile. They’re all adults with with various developmental disabilities, and they’re inspired by everything and anything that brings them joy.

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Grace Tang
Grace Tang shows off a Hello Kitty piece she's working on. Photo: Richmond News/Megan Devlin

Grace Tang hold ups a Hello Kitty piece she’s working on. She enjoys bringing fantasy tales to life, and she’s loved the feline character since she was a toddler.

“My favourite part of doing art is feeling great about myself,” she said. “It makes me feel beautiful.”

Others agree Tang is a talented artist. Earlier this year, her Swan Princess piece won third place and a purse of $50 at the Midsummer Art’s Dream exhibition at Lansdowne Centre. 

Mumtaz Khokhar, an RSCL counsellor who leads the art studio sessions, said they never mention their artists have disabilities when entering them in contests. When participants win, they place among professional artists in Richmond.

“I've done this for many, many years,” Khokar said. “And I've seen the difference from when they start to when they're selling. It's such a big difference for their self-esteem.”

Right now, the group has several works on exhibit at City Hall. The gallery is called Celebrating Abilities, and the annual October show has been going on for the better part of two decades, staff say.

They hope it can help members of the public see past disability to appreciate how talented the individuals are.

“It really allows them credibility as artists and not just looking at somebody as 'oh you have a disability'” said Lisa Cowell, manager of community development with RSCL. “The big takeaway is the idea that art is something that anybody can do.”

The next show on their agenda is the Christmas craft fair at Richmond Caring Place. Enrico Magsajo, getting in the spirit early, is working on a Santa Claus.

After the exhibit finishes, the artists can choose to keep their pieces or to sell them. 

Cowell said the prize money is also a point of pride.

 “They can augment their disability assistance payments … and have some spending money,” she said, adding that’s something the rest of us often take for granted.

Over at another corner of the table, Kevin Lee works on colouring a yellow and purple page from a colouring book. Behind him is a striking still life sketch his hands once coaxed from charcoal and paper.

Kevin Lee
Kevin Lee created these sketches. Photo: Richmond News/Megan Devlin

Lee was shy during his interview, but perked up when Khokar asked him to show off his famous birthday trick. If you tell him your birthday and  birth year, he’ll tell you what day of the week you were born on.

I told him February the 3rd, 1993.

He repeated the date to himself a couple of times, flipping through his mental calendar before exclaiming “Wednesday!”  Indeed, he was correct.

Cowell, who says she couldn’t draw a stick figure if you paid her, said it’s inspiring to see RSCL clients who use wheelchairs or have motor skill limitations create such beautiful pieces.

“It's not about the disability; it's about the piece that came out at the end.”

RSCL welcomes donations of money or art supplies to help nurture their clients’ creativity. 

Art group
Members of the Avenues art program pose for a photo. From left to right: Karen Kehoe, Kevin Lee, staff member Nimfa Quito, Enrico Magsajo, Banu Thaver, staff member Mumtaz Khokar and Melody Edgars. Photo: Richmond News/Megan Devlin

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