It’s just before noon and students prepare to start class with the Minnetonka Center for the Arts instructor. Many have been at their jobs all morning and are looking forward to a break and some creativity to recharge after work. These adults are attending art classes through eQuality – Pathways to Potential, which employs individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and encourages them to maximize their potential and actively participate in life’s opportunities. Artist-Instructor Ruth Mason has been working with adults with disabilities for several years, providing art classes for our partner eQuality. Inspired by an exhibit of China’s terra cotta warriors, Ruth introduced her class to a series of Asian-themed projects, starting with Chinese brush painting. “It was fun because it’s very process oriented and highly stylized. Different brush strokes create different shapes,” says Ruth. “Everyone was able to participate in this ancient style of art.” The students also created warrior figures, not literally battle related,

but a figure from their personal lives that made them feel safe and protected. It opened a dialogue about things that made them feel unsafe. “I think a lot of adults with disabilities feel unsafe when they’re not respected,” says Ruth. For example, one man approached Ruth two weeks earlier, saying, “Ruth, when are we going to make our warrior figures? I’m having some issues in my life and I would really like to get going on that project.” “I believe this gentleman was very frustrated with someone [at work] and wanted to express ‘I’m trying to tell you what I need and you’re not listening,’” says Ruth, describing the communicative power of art. “Often students are eager to give their artwork to a caregiver or parent as a way of saying ‘See how capable I am’ or returning love they’ve been given.” Making art has its practical side, too, building essential skills. “You learn how to measure, you learn about proportion, you learn about size and scale or how to use scissors. And there’s always a little more math than people think,” according to Ruth. Besides being an accomplished artist with a B.F.A. from Minneapolis College of Art and Design, with studies in theatre arts, experience in film production and a penchant for large-scale public art, Ruth brings abundant creativity and intuitive sensitivity to her Outreach work. “I see the person first. We’re all the same in terms of what we need and want,” says Ruth, adding, “I think it’s easy for some to see adults with disabilities as childlike, but they have a mature understanding of life.” She helps everyone participate, even those with significant physical challenges, by breaking each project down to clear steps. The process of making art and building community is Ruth’s priority. “I always say if one person isn’t done, then nobody is done. We’re all working together,” she says, adding with a laugh, “and that goes for clean up, too!”

-Ruth Mason, Minnetonka Center for the Arts