Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame and now special needs students from across the region get their moment in the spotlight, plus much more. “Hands that Touch the Heart,” an annual exhibit presented by the Danville Learning Disabilities Association and Boyle County Autism Support Group, returns to the Community Arts Center and celebrates its fifth year of the student art show.
Through the end of April, visitors can see the show, which features a heartwarming exhibition of art by special-needs students from eight schools: Boyle County, Danville Independent, Kentucky School for the Deaf, Mercer County, Garrard County, Jessamine County, Madison County, and even a student from Johnson City, Tenn.
Andrea Cass, president of DLDA, began this project in 2006 with only 50 artists, hoping to offer special-needs students a unique opportunity to express their creative abilities. As a painter and mother of a special-needs child, Cass recognized the need for a program in which these children could convey their extraordinary personalities.
“It is breathtaking to see the hidden talents of these artists unfold as Brandon Long, programming director of the arts center, and I (put up) the show each year,” Cass said.
With more than 200 participants in this year’s show, the numerous volunteers cannot go unrecognized. Relentless volunteers helped organize the show along with all the teachers and assistants in each school.
“Without the support of the schools, this couldn’t happen,” said Cass. “I am so very pleased that the community also supports this event and the artists. As April is Autism Awareness Month, this is a very special time, and Danville embraces these wonderful special needs students by coming out the see the show.”
Jacob Tamme, Danville native and Indianapolis Colts football player, also plays a huge role in being an unofficial spokesperson for the group.
The Community Arts Center’s Grand Hall is currently covered, wall to wall, with a bright and varied array of artistry from landscapes and sports teams to abstracts with bold colors and patterns. Each painting is one-of-a-kind, inspired by the artistic expression of these students.
Chrissy McWhorter, a senior at Boyle County High School, has participated in “Hands that Touch the Heart” since her freshman year. Chrissy is the daughter of Dave and Polly Evans of Danville.
“Painting is such fun and it is a way for me to express who I am,” said McWhorter.
She loves peace signs and painted one this year, titled “Peace be with You,” which only seems appropriate since her father is the pastor at Salt River Baptist Church.
Cass is excited about the progress and positive impact this show is having.
“It has grown far beyond what I could imagine,” she said. “My hopes and dreams are that we continue to grow and provide all special needs students this wonderful opportunity.”
In collaboration with DLDA and the Boyle County Autism Support Group, the arts center will present a reception in the students’ honor, which will be open to the public. Student art work will be for sale at $15 per piece, with $10 directly benefitting each student artist and $5 of the proceeds helping DLDA defer costs. Works also are for sale to the visiting public throughout the month of April.
“The reality is these students often don’t receive recognition,” Cass said. “We felt an artists’ reception would allow these children their 15 minutes of fame, while the community can see what a wonderful population of special needs students we have.”
Stephen Wiltshire, a famous architectural artist, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3 and communicated through his art until he learned to speak at the age of 5. Known for his ability to draw a perfect landscape after seeing it just once, Wiltshire’s motto is applicable to all of us: “Do what you do best and never stop.”