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Friday, May 24
The Indiana Daily Student


A transformative act

Creating arts and crafts at Stone Belt

Kelly Tate and Denise Hillenburg arrange colorful paper in Andy Warhol style April 1 at Stone Belt in Bloomington. Art instructor and facilitator Karen Holtzclaw helped them select colors.

Walk down the new B-Line Trail between Fifth and Sixth streets and the shadows from a colorful “Animal Island” will fall on pedestrians. Cross over to Third Street and a painted signal-box mural with bright blues, reds and yellows, smiling faces and cheerful bees awaits. Head to the Bryan Park Tots Playground and smiling animals will greet children ready to play.

These public art displays were all created at Stone Belt, a nonprofit organization in Bloomington that provides education and support to people with disabilities. The art program started four years ago with mixed-media mosaics as a project to engage individuals with the community.

“We did large mosaics here based on client drawings,” said Larry Pejeau, director of art-and-craft and business development at Stone Belt. “We took some clients with us and all our materials, and we’d just set up and finish those mosaics in a public spot and invite people to join us. It was really a lot of fun and a great project.”

From there, the art projects expanded. They use recycled or donated materials, such as wallpaper and cloth samples, yarn and glitter to fill in the colors of a drawing one of the clients made. Karen Holtzclaw, a full-time art teacher at Stone Belt, facilitates the process. Individuals are paid $6.55 per hour to do the artwork, and paid 33 to 50 percent of the sale price when the item is sold.

Sometimes it takes creativity to give participants with various disabilities access to the art materials, Pejeau said.

“There’s a woman who has cerebral palsy,” he said. “She’s in a rolling bed, and her hands have a twist to them. We Velcro a paintbrush to her hand and she does some amazing work. ... And there’s someone who never did art.”

Kelly Tate is an artist who has participated in a variety of art projects at Stone Belt. She said she spends a lot of time in the art room.

“My favorite part is drawing,” she said. “I think it’s fun. I like doing a lot of stuff. I like drawing people and friends around here – co-workers and nurses mostly. I like that too. I feel happy.”

The city of Bloomington has collaborated with professional artists and Stone Belt to incorporate the artwork into public displays. Miah Michaelsen, assistant economic development director for the arts for the city of Bloomington, said putting Stone Belt artwork into public spaces exposes the community to the potential and quality of work done by the artists.

“Public art in and of itself is a great thing,” she said. “Being able to provide visibility for those that people don’t necessarily define as artists opens people’s eyes. Yes, they can create art, and yes, it can be beautiful.”

An exhibit of colorful insects is currently on display at the WonderLab Museum of Health, Science and Technology. Gallery operations manager Mike Voyles said the art highlights the joy and beauty in the natural world.

Approaching science with an artist’s eye opens science up to constantly changing perspectives, he said, as well as being fun.

“Their work, just looking at it, makes you smile,” he said of the Stone Belt artwork. “All the insects and subject material is all very happy. It’s all colorful.”

But the art-and-craft unit of Stone Belt goes far beyond these public displays and exhibits. On the lower level of Stone Belt is a woodworking shop where staff and clients produce Adirondack-style chairs, wine boxes and custom orders. Down the hallway is an expansive room where large machines cut leather for belts, coasters and bookmarks, and where individuals use leftovers from other projects to create new work for exploration art projects. Nothing gets thrown out.

This is not a small operation. Last year, Stone Belt produced all the belts for the U.S. military police, along with belts for the Navy, U.S. Postal Service and IU personnel, bringing the number to 30,000 leather belts, Pejeau said. They’re also working on a job to assemble 120,000 greeting cards.

“This is an infinite source of revenue for the agency,” Pejeau said. “It creates wages and a little bit of profit, all of which gets dumped back into this. Same with the art program. All the money we make on the art program goes into buying materials.”

For individuals at Stone Belt, the art-and-craft program opens a space for creative artisans to contribute beautiful artwork to the community. That, Pejeau said, is a powerful act.

“With art, they get to express themselves,” he said. “It’s been very transformative. You see people really, really blossoming, and they start doing stuff and they get their own vision. ... They’re so proud of themselves.”

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