Don’t Miss My Ability

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Mercy Care clients and artist Kate Barrett prepare for the exhibition. Photo: TruPics

An exhibition of work by clients of Mercy Care, Don’t Miss My Ability, has launched at the Albury LibraryMuseum and will run for a month.

Artist, Kate Barrett, has been working with clients with disabilities for six years and spoke to Border Cafe’s Robyne Young about creating the work for the exhibition and the transformative power of art for all.

What has been the process for helping clients develop work for the exhibition?

The clients have varying levels of disabilities: some are blind, some are paraplegic and some are non-verbal, as well we have some clients with Down Syndrome, so it’s a challenge to find activities that everyone can attempt to do, but still achieve it at some level.

“whether that have a disability or not – whoever you are, you have that sense of self that can be expressed through art”

Sometimes they end up with something they’ve completed by themselves, or that they take part in the part of the process and someone else can do the next part, and I’m always amazed at the ‘can do’ attitude. Somebody always has a go and someone else is always there to be able to help them finish it off if they can’t, so the clients become helpers for each other.

It’s exciting to see – there’s one client I call ‘Can Do Kevin’. He has use of one hand and there is not one project this year that he has not attempted and succeeded in completing. You can see the smile when he has achieved something and that’s great.

Do the clients have input into the types of artwork they’d like to create?

I would say they’ve had input as far as their personalities and their ability level, and this has also prompted me to create projects that suit them.

For example one client, Susan, first started last year and she wasn’t really engaged in the art project – she would be in the other room and looking over.

It took her a long time to even get to the table. When she did, we were doing lots of things with vintage fabric. And Susan loves to put things into her drink bottle, so she would push the vintage fabric into her drink bottle – which I had no issue with – it was fine for her to take some of it home, but her carer then had to get the fabric out and wash it and suggested, good humouredly, that I could finish that particular project soon.

That then prompted me to think – what can I create that Susan can do? I love the concept of things in jars, there’s something about it that seems quite precious, so I took in some glass jars, explained it to the class and told them I had been thinking about Susan and her face lit up.

She grabbed the jars and started jamming them with fabric. They just look fantastic too, so I’m excited that we’ll see those hanging in the exhibition with the rest of the work.

Kate Barrett leads Mercy Care clients through their latest creative projects.

There’s a piece, Push It, made from recycled salt and pepper sachets. How did you come to be able to access enough sachets to make the work?

I really like to use recycled materials in my artworks, and it’s almost a necessity because we have a limited budget with limited supplies. I work at Olive Health Foods and out the back we used to have a café and there’s a heap of little salt and pepper sachets that we used at the café.

Then the idea came from the Salt-N-Pepa song, Push It, so we made an artwork from the sachets that spells out Push It. That then lead me to think about ‘Can Do Kev’ and how he has to be pushed in his wheelchair, and that then led to using stencils of wheelchairs for another work. The two will be hung together.

Kate, you have a background in stage management, prop design and theatre, but you really have a passion for community arts, building projects and making things happen. What is the impact you’ve seen of art therapy for clients of Mercy Care?

I’ve been working with Mercy Care using art and drama with the clients, and it’s different with every activity. For example we did some self-portraiture work and one of the clients painted himself as a postman, and it turned out that that had been his job before he became a client.

Art is always an exploration of self, and it doesn’t matter where the person is in their life – whether that have a disability or not – whoever you are, you have that sense of self that can be expressed through art.

Don’t Miss My Ability is on show at Albury LibraryMuseum.