The Wae Center marked 10 years of standing up for area adults with developmental disabilities by inviting its supporters to take a seat.
At its anniversary gala, held on Nov. 2 at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, the Jewish-run “Wellness, Arts, Enrichment” center displayed 11 “Chairs of Inclusion” created by professional artists working in collaboration with 62 Wae Center member-artists.
In addition, the dozens of dinner tables sported blossom-entwined chairs as centerpieces.
“The chair idea actually came about five years ago,” Wae Center founder and director Marilynn Schneider explained. She had been chatting with Renie Carniol, manager of funder services at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ. “We were pushing chairs up to a table,” said Schneider, “when she pointed out that this is what we’re about — trying to ensure that everyone has ‘a place at the table,’ that everyone is valued for who they are and what they can do.”
The chairs became the symbol of the yearlong anniversary for the West Orange-based alternative learning center, which has grown to provide 17 different kinds of programs. It serves around 65 people ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s with a wide range of disabilities. Wae is a program of the Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled of MetroWest, Inc., a partner agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Inclusivity — and, as Schneider puts it, “finding the spark within” — have become the guiding principles for her and her staff, including the artists who work one-to-one with the clients.
Among the chairs displayed at the gala were Stephen Schwartz’s towering black and white LEGO “Empire State Chair”; a crocheted “Woven Chair” designed by Gladys Barker Grauer and Onnie Strother; and Ellen Hanauer’s assemblage of Perspex boxes, each filled with objects chosen by her Wae partners.
The other lead artists included Susanna Baker, Dan Fenelon, Tim Folzenlogen, Lisa Ficarelli-Halpern, Jennifer Levine, Yvette Lucas, Mansa Mussa, and the members of ArtShare.
For the anniversary show, each lead artist provided an initial vision for their chair, but incorporated the sometimes widely divergent ways Wae clients interpreted their instructions. Every artist interviewed said the process, though sometimes challenging, proved creatively stimulating and more rewarding than they had anticipated.
The chair creations and associated merchandise will be on view and for sale (other than the three chairs that sold at the Nov. 2 gala) Nov. 9-Dec. 17 in the Gaelen Gallery East at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange; at the Morris Museum in Morristown, Dec. 20-Feb. 1; and at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey in Summit, June 7-14.
Randee Rubenstein was the evening’s honoree, chosen to receive JSDD’s Golden Heart Award for Outstanding Leadership. Rubenstein is a mother of four, including one son with disabilities. “I wanted to help my son,” she recalled. “Marilynn Schneider wanted to help the whole community.”
The gala also featured a mini-store’s worth of fund-raising merchandise featuring chairs, including posters, scarves, cards, bags, and jewelry designed by teacher and graphic designer Lisette Rottman, in partnership with Wae artists.