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Adding color to life

Adding color to life

Artfest to mark 10th anniversary Nov. 12 at Absalom Jones Center

The University of Delaware’s Laura Stammherr volunteered at Artfest as a freshman. She came back as a sophomore. Now a junior, she’s counting the days until her third trip.

“The atmosphere is so energetic. Everyone is so happy,” she says. 

A health sciences major with a concentration in occupational therapy, Stammherr added a disability studies minor after her first Artfest, noting, “My experience there was definitely a factor.”

Artfest is a community event that brings together people with disabilities, family members and volunteers to celebrate artistic expression. Now in its 10th year, Artfest offers a range of creative projects, all of which are accessible.

It’s presented by the University of Delaware’s Center for Disabilities Studies and Art Therapy Express

Grace Cole, a three-time participant, comes to paint. And paint. As her mother Hazel Cole says, “There’s not enough time for us to do it all. She never wants to leave.”

Cole says that painting empowers her daughter. “It’s an activity she can do, and do well. It’s a confidence boost for her, and also very calming.” Grace’s artwork from previous Artfests decorates the wall in her play area.

To Morgan Jungling, who participated last year, the whole event was “awesome,” but the best part came last. “Everyone came together and took a picture,” she recalls. “It’s one big whole family.” 

That has always been the goal of Lisa Bartoli, Art Therapy Express’ director and lead artist. “It’s just as much about connections, joy and friendship as it is about art,” says Bartoli, who also serves as Artfest’s creative director. “It adds color to life.”

For Artfest’s 10th anniversary, Bartoli is adding fresh touches — literally. Several activities will focus on feel as much as sight. She thinks “people don’t realize how fun texture can be. It takes the flat out of the world.” 

This year will also see new collaborators, including five seniors from UD’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and occupational therapists from Delaware Technical Community College. 

The mechanical engineering students, supervised by assitant professor Jenni Buckley, are creating a kit with parts that can be assembled to make a wide variety of assistive devices. Their prototype, which is the culmination of their senior design project, can make multiple forms of arm brace and grip assistance. “It’s like an Erector set for art therapy,” Buckley says.  

Alongside the innovative technology, Artfest will also feature marble painting and chalk rubbing collages, together with some old favorites. Spin art will be there. And, of course, the floor mural. 

Bartoli treasures it because so many can be painting at the same time. “You look up and see each other. Everyone is creating together.”

Stammherr saw it, too. “Everyone came together,” she says.

Artfest will take place on Saturday, Nov. 12, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the New Castle County Absalom Jones Community Center, 310 Kiamensi Rd., Newport, Delaware.

To participate or volunteer, complete the online registration form or contact Vernetta Knight at 302-831-0140 or at vknight@udel.edu. The deadline for registration is Nov. 4.


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