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A place for us: Neighborhood Center of the Arts teaches life skills through art

Jennifer Nobles
Staff Writer
Neighborhood Center of the Arts’ Julie Hamilton shows off a painting she recently completed called ‘Russia Castle.’ The public is invited to visit the organization’s gallery where people can witness art being made and select from works available for purchase.
Photo submitted by Neighborhood Center of the Arts

Since its inception in 1984 the Neighborhood Center of the Arts has provided arts-based training and education for those who are differently abled.

A nonprofit organization, Neighborhood Center of the Arts has expanded and grown to fit the needs of the many artists who have developed skills and expressed themselves artistically through the organizations’ programs.

Executive director Amee Medeiros has been with the center for nearly 12 years, and is consistently impressed by the artists and their perseverance.

“We’re a working art studio for folks with special abilities,” said Medeiros. “We don’t like to say ‘disabilities’, because many of the artists have abilities that other people don’t have, like sitting at the loom weaving rugs while blind.”

The artists range in age from 22-81 years.

Over time, technology and the generosity of the community have made possible an expansion of the classes offered to the artists. Medeiros noted within the last year the center has added photography, gardening, radio/podcast and Etsy classes.

The latter provides a hands-on opportunity for the artists to experience the creation of goods while seeing through the sale, packing, shipping and follow up with direct customers who shop their wares.

“Everybody here has goals they are working toward,” said Medeiros, “whether it’s showing up on time, being socially appropriate, learning to count money, shop from a list. We’re actually helping them become better community members and stronger individuals.”

When an artist sells a piece of his or her work, the artist receives 50 percent of the sale price as income, while the other 50 percent goes back to the center. “(It’s) expensive to be an artist,” said Medeiros.

The center ultimately wants its artists to experience a sense of independence, and Medeiros was delighted to share that success stories aren’t uncommon.

“There’s so many great people, and quite a few folks have moved out of their care home, bringing them one step closer to getting their independence.”

Of the 72 active artists at the center, Medeiros estimates about 10 of them are living on their own.

Spring is a busy time for the Neighborhood Center of the Arts, with their annual Spring Fling taking place May 18. According to Medeiros the artists are enthusiastic about the celebration and look forward to the event all year long.

The community is invited to attend the Spring Fling, where they can expect performances from the artists (“Some of them are doing karaoke,” said Medeiros), a plant sale in the garden and a barbecue. The gallery will be open as well. Admission is free, with donations graciously accepted.

Additionally some of the artists grow lavender and have learned to make essential oils and soap, which will be for sale.

With the change of season, the center is offering newly expanded hours. The gallery is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and now the third Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Medeiros said even though she and her staff are here to guide the artists toward more independent lives, they are often the ones who feel the most fulfilled at the end of the day.

“We are here to teach them but we always go home being taught something new, something as simple as ‘love yourself,’” Medeiros said. “So often we don’t believe in ourselves and we see people with stronger struggles than we (have) and they are so happy-go-lucky. When we get to come to work and see our friends here it’s an incredible feeling. It’s a special little tribe up here.

“We’re artists first before people with special abilities, and we need community support by visiting and sharing the word. We’re the best kept secret in this community. It’s a pretty rad place.”

For more information visit ncagrassvalley.org.

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer at The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@theunion.com or by calling (530) 477-4231.

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