The power of arts

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Local studio, nonprofit partner to offer art classes

Posted on Saturday, January 6, 2018   Kali Bradford

Every Wednesday morning, local artisan shop and crafters studio BluBearz fills with folks ready to create and grow in the arts.

For these particular customers, art is something that can come as challenge due to mental or physical disabilities.

However, that doesn’t stop the visitors from fully embracing their talents and growing as budding artists.


From left, Michael constructs a marble run with BluBlearz co-owner Mike Sneed.
-Staff Photos by Kali Bradford

These artists are part of the Tennessee Personal Assistance program (TPA), a nonprofit organization that provides quality support services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Tennessee.

The purpose of the organization is to serve with dignity and advocate for the values of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

For over a year, the group has been meeting each Wednesday morning thanks to an unlikely meeting at the Tullahoma Wal-Mart.

“I met her (BluBearz owner Cindy Sneed) at Wal-Mart,” said Cheryl Moore, who works with TPA. “She just came up to me and told me about BluBearz. She told what she was doing with the classes. We came down to see what it was all about and have been coming ever since. We are always looking for physical therapy outlets to try out, so this seemed to be a great idea.”

Benefits of Art

There are a number of emotional and physical benefits that can be gained through art therapy for those with mental or physical disabilities.

According to the website, for someone with a disability, art therapy can be life changing.

Emotionally, art therapy can benefit disabled individuals by giving them new mediums through which they can express themselves and their experiences.

The ability of individuals to better express their emotions may prevent them from getting backlogged and experiencing emotional difficulties.

Karen watches carefully as BluBearz co-owner Cindy Sneed gives direction on her daily art project.

Participating in the arts also helps to reduce stress and anxiety and increases physical and emotional health. A reduction of stress and pain is another benefit of art therapy, which is true for both disabled and non-disabled individuals.

For individuals who cannot speak, art can help to communicate a complicated message. For a person with a mental disability who cannot communicate effectively through words, acts such as painting can help them communicate without words.

Growing in the Arts

Each week, Moore brings Jeremiah to the group. Now attending the class for over a year, Moore said in the beginning, Jeremiah had no interest in the taking part in the class. However, that quickly changed.

“When he first started coming, all he wanted to do was to trace on a piece of paper,” Moore said. “Now he’s carving wood, painting and will try just about anything. He loves coming each week. He knows each Wednesday morning he’s coming here to create something new and he loves it.”

Lucretia Ruelas is also involved with the TPA and has brought Karen, who is assisted by the organization.

“Karen started coloring and now she’s working on crafts and will be starting to work on carving wood after the first of the year,” she said.

The group consists of five-to-seven individuals. According to Sneed, the group is kept small to allow more one-on-one time with each student.

“We talk with each student and see what they are interested in doing,” Sneed said. “We then give them options and allow them to pick what they would like to do. It’s been amazing to see how everyone has grown over the year. We want to welcome even more students into the classes as we grow.”

Josh, left, works on carving a piece of sculpture. Local artists such as Paul Jabort, center, assist in teaching both Josh and Jeremiah, far right, on how to hone their sculpting skills.

The classes are also offered free to the group. Sneed said that in order to keep providing the classes, they are looking into grants and individuals or groups who would like to support the class.

“It’s so much more than them just coming in and doing a craft each week; they have gained independence, self-confidence, friendships and so much more. We hope we can grow these classes in 2018,” she said.

About TPA

All members who meet each week at BluBearz work with the Tennessee- based nonprofit agency.

Established in 2005 with operations in Middle Tennessee, TPA provides person-centered home and community-based programs to people from all walks of life who desire direct personal support services that empower them to self-direct their own services, make personal choices, pursue opportunities and live independently.

Programs include a family model residential, medical residential, elderly services, nursing, respite, supported living and personal assistance.

Moore has been working with Jeremiah for over eight years through the TPA program.


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