Stuart Nagy embraced art

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A creative focus: People with disabilities thrive at Whitewater’s Studio 84

Stuart Nagy

Stuart Nagy smiles as he forms clay into a cup Tuesday at Studio 84 in Whitewater. Nagy, who has Down syndrome, travels to Studio 84 from Milwaukee suburb of Hales Corners. Angela Major

Stuart Nagy knew his world changed the day he walked into Studio 84.

The now-27-year-old had been looking for a place to create pottery and paintings.

When he found the art space in downtown Whitewater, he immediately embraced it.

Nagy, who has Down syndrome, even wanted to live above the studio so he would not have to travel from his home in Hales Corners.

“I just love it here,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a whole lot of different ways to do clay.”

Nagy has a passion for art.

But until he found the studio, Nagy did not think his dream of becoming an artist could come true.

Studio 84 in downtown Whitewater specializes in developing the creative abilities of people with disabilities. The nonprofit studio also features gallery space and a gift shop with art created by the studio’s artists.

A risk well taken

Deborah Blackwell had the courage to create the unique space a decade ago when the economy had tanked and people had little money to donate.

“It was my passion that carried me through,” Blackwell said. “I started with a used table I found alongside the road and some leftover art supplies.”

Today, she depends on individual donations, grants and the support of local businesses and organizations. Students also pay a small fee.

“We keep the fee very low because so many of our students are very low income,” Blackwell said. “My ultimate vision is that our services would be free for all.”

Blackwell graduated in 2008 from UW-Whitewater with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and yearned for a job with meaning.

While in college, she saw that people with disabilities had few opportunities to discover their creativity.

Blackwell developed a business plan for a community studio that would welcome them.

Eventually, she found a location on Center Street with enough space to do all she envisioned.

“Oftentimes, people with disabilities do not realize they have gifts in the arts,” Blackwell said, because throughout school and young adulthood they are focused on learning daily-living or job skills.

“Getting involved in the arts gives them a place where they make the decisions,” she said. “They tap into a part of themselves they’ve never tapped into before because of all the other obstacles in life.”

Ben Kelly, who has a master’s degree in social work, works with students and challenges them when they are ready.

He began as a volunteer.

“This place really had an impact on me because of all the creativity here,” Kelly said. “I always love it when an able-bodied person comes in and says, ‘I can’t paint.’ Talk to Stuart or any of the others, and they will show you how.”

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