CitySpace Exhibit Features Artists With Disabilities - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

CitySpace Exhibit Features Artists With Disabilities

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Chris Wharam Chris Wharam

People in the Charlottesville area with disabilities are expressing themselves through art, and now their work is being displayed on the downtown mall.

The Piedmont Council for the Arts is teaming up with the Charlottesville-Albemarle VSA formerly known as Very Special Arts, for an exhibit in the CitySpace gallery for the month of July.

For the artists with disabilities it's about so much more than just creating something special - it's a chance for them to find their voice.

Chris Wharam was 31-years-old when he got in a car accident, and suffered a head injury. He was paralyzed and couldn't speak. He had to go through speech therapy, but in the meantime he found a new way to tell people what's on his mind.

"I can't speak out, you know, expression. So I [create] art," he said.

His new voice was found by painting big, bold colors and abstract forms.

For John Trippel, who suffers from schizophrenia, it was in watercolor, cartooning and etchings.

"It's a way of expressing myself in a uniform language. It's a form of communication. It's a language that is unmistakable anywhere in the world," Trippel said.

He said art has helped him overcome his schizophrenia, which at one point kept him paralyzed by fear.

"My art was a way of doing something that's socially acceptable, at least the type of art that I do is acceptable to others, and it made me feel more comfortable than just being by myself and not having much interaction or communication with the world around me," he said.

People of all different ages with a whole range of physical and mental disabilities have expressed themselves on canvas for the exhibit.

"Sometimes VSA folks are shy, like any one of us might be, and the opportunity to shine in a way that gives us a tiny bit of distance from our voice is really really beneficial," said Mary Miller, a VSA volunteer.

And for the VSA artists, it's a big deal to get to show their work to the mainstream.

"It's a way of enjoying my efforts I make on canvass," said Trippel. "It's more than therapeutic. It's an avocation."

"Most of our individual artists have shown in other venues at other times but to be downtown Charlottesville is pretty special," said Miller.

The Piedmont Council for the Arts is hosting a First Fridays opening reception next Friday July 5, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at CitySpace. The event is free and open to the public and many of the artists will be there to talk about their work.

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