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Ohio University and Passion Works team up for collaborative art study

Aug. 9, 2005
By Erin Roberts

School of Communication Studies Assistant Professor Lynn Harter and Patty Mitchell, founder of Passion Works, were recently awarded a $30,000 grant from the Ohio Arts Council (OAC) and a matching grant of $30,000 from the Athens County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. The grants will enable them to conduct an ethnographic study of the use of collaborative art among people with and without disabilities to build community.

Passion WorksAccording to Harter, who has been working with the facility for the past year to research how art can be used as a vehicle to build community, the grants will enable her to apply her academic research to benefit Appalachia.

"It's exciting to receive financial support for a project that is meaningful--and it's meaningful for multiple stakeholders," she said. "It's meaningful for the discipline and the advancement of the study of communication, but it's also meaningful for community."

Interim Dean Greg Shepherd says Harter's work represents the applied research the College takes pride in producing.

"It embodies a partnership between us and a very significant community organization that is making a difference in the lives of many people," he said. "Professor Harter's work is compelling because it marries deep theoretical and scholarly insight with significant application and experience. Her work is extraordinary."

The two-year project is already under way and will result in a process guide on how to create an art studio within a sheltered studio environment so that other communities can follow its lead. According to OAC artist-in-residence Mitchell, Passion Works often fields such calls.

"People with disabilities live in every culture and community," Mitchell said. "It's a universal issue. People and communities don't really know how to serve these individuals. We've been able to create an environment where they are thriving, and we have received many, many inquiries as to how to create studios such as ours."

"The process guide will explore the nature of collaboration and how it works within our program to demystify the collaborative art process we've developed at Passion Works Studio," she added.

According to its Web site (www.passionworks.org), Passion Works Studio "supports collaborations between artists with and without developmental disabilities." The studio's roots trace to an artist residency program funded through the OAC in 1997. That artist-in-residence was Mitchell, who founded Passion Works in 1998. The studio now operates with a core group of staff artists who are artists-in-residence, individuals with mental retardation and developmental disabilities or Passion Works artists, visiting artists and volunteers, many of whom are Ohio University students.

Jami Goldstein, communications manager at the OAC, said Mitchell has made a name for herself and the studio through her work.

"Passion Works is really one of our most outstanding grantees," she said. "What they have been able to do with ATCO and the studio is really phenomenal. Patty Mitchell is an amazing person. She took the idea of what she did there in the first two years and ran with it."

Mitchell, who is originally from northern Virginia, came to Athens in 1983 to study at Ohio University and has been here ever since. She has been named a Distinguished Alumni and won the Outstanding Alumna Award in Arts and Sciences in January 2000 and the Fine Arts Outstanding Alumna in Art Award in October 2001.

Harter believes Mitchell is at the core of Passion Works' success.

"Passion Works has been phenomenally successful at (creating a community art studio)," Harter said, "and I think it's because Patty has an entrepreneurial spirit and a vision for art as both a process and a product. She has been able to translate the product into a process, and Passion Works has been successful from a business standpoint."

Mitchell admits that customers do the talking in that they just seem to keep coming back for more. She says Passion Works has been able to "generate a visual identity for our community" through the well-known Passion Works flower, noting that it has become the official flower of Athens, Ohio, and that three of the flowers will be the focal point of a fountain being built at the Athens Recreation Center on State Street.

Both Mitchell and Harter know a good thing when they see it and are poised to spread that goodness to other communities.

"There are people both in the United States and across the border that are working to use art as a vehicle for expression," Harter said. "I think that's what is key to Passion Works. People haven't had a voice, they haven't been able to communicate within the community, and that's what Passion Works does, especially for traditionally marginalized individuals."

According to Mitchell, "We've built this studio, and it's grown naturally through instinct and responding to people with disabilities."

Mitchell is quick to credit Harter as the jewel of the grant-funded project.

"We're so lucky to have Lynn come along, where this is her area of expertise," Mitchell said. "She has the skill to collect information and disseminate it so that others can follow our model. It's something we couldn't have done on our own. We can give hints of it, but she, as an expert, is creating written material that does an excellent job of explaining our process."

Harter's work with the studio thus far has resulted in an article she co-authored with graduate students titled "Freedom through Flight: Performing a Counter-Narrative of Disabilities." The article has been accepted for publication in the January 2006 edition of the Journal of Applied Communication Research. In addition to creating a process guide with the grant funding, Harter will present the research for publication in scholarly journals.

In the meantime, both women have trips planned to visit studios abroad. Mitchell will travel to Chile, and Harter has plans to visit South Africa.

"The work that Lynn is doing is so important and so valuable," Mitchell reiterates. "The work that we do benefits our artists directly, but her work is going to make it so that it's available to hundreds, if not thousands, of people with disabilities. I'm just very grateful that she has been here and that she will be able to generate this information to others."

Harter lives in Athens with her husband and colleague, Scott Titsworth, and their daughter, Emma Grace, 4.

For more information about Passion Works, please visit www.passionworks.org.

Erin Roberts is the external relations coordinator for the College of Communication.

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Published: Aug 9, 2005 1:41:00 PM
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