Marilynn Schneider describes her mission, as director of the Wellness, Arts, and Enrichment Center in West Orange, as fanning the spark everyone has inside.
For many of the 64 people who come to the WAE Center for its daily programs, that light might be cloaked by disability. But in their art, handsomely framed and displayed at the exhibition at the Gaelen Gallery East at the Cooperman JCC, their energy shines bright.
There are witty line drawings, lavishly colorful acrylic paintings, and some subtle and sophisticated prints, as well as jewelry and other crafts. The “Out of the Box” show and sale runs through Dec. 31.
“We bring people together and they learn from each other; that’s what happens at the center,” said Schneider, proudly viewing the work. “Everyone has potential when an opportunity is presented to them to express it.”
At the exhibition opening earlier this month, Schneider was honored for her eight years with the WAE Center, which is run under the auspices of Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled. In addition to art, the daily schedule offers adults with developmental disabilities programs in movie-making and photography, music, yoga, and — perhaps most crucially — conversation.
Tim Folzenlogen works at the center as an art “facilitator,” not so much teaching technique as enabling the clients to express that inner spark. A successful artist himself, with decades of solo shows in New York, he said he adores the job. “I don’t ever want to stop doing this,” he declared, between hugs and warm welcomes to the exhibitors arriving at the JCC. “I’ve always been someone who didn’t conform to society’s norms. At WAE, I fit right in; these people don’t know how to be anything but themselves. They’re totally honest.”
WAE client Kristen Zachares showcases her work — drawing, poetry, and video animation that often draws on Japanese “Manga” comics — on a website, yinyangremix.waecenter.org/terms.html. “I went to college, but it didn’t work for me,” she said. “I was very shy. I didn’t speak to anyone. I know — that’s hard to believe! At WAE, they encouraged me. They brought everything out.”
She was helping her friend Tamilah Alexander explore the show. Tamilah has been blind since she was nine, but creates jewelry (displayed on her website) and makes pictures using sticky yarn as a guide for her finger painting. On display was a picture she had made of a bowl of fruit, with a bright sun and sky. “I was inspired,” she said, “by the Virgin Islands, where my family comes from.”
The featured speaker at the opening was Andrew Edlin, the owner of a gallery with that name on 10th Avenue in Manhattan. His focus, since his opening in 2001, has always been on “outsider” or self-taught artists, and he recently bought the rights to the Outsider Art Fair, which will have its 21st annual showing this winter.
Seven WAE artists took part in the Outsider fair last year, but Edlin’s focus that evening was not so much on finding the next best-seller as encouraging all the participants to do their thing. “You can never dismiss anyone’s talent,” he said.