Bringing Together a Community, One Artist at a Time

By Rebecca Parvaresh

Photos provided by Cathy Knoll

There is no disputing the positive effects of the AccessARTS program throughout the Cross Timbers Area. The smiles on each face and the twinkling eyes of each participant as they pick up a paint brush or strum an instrument is evidence enough that AccessARTS Director, Cathy Knoll, is bringing more than the arts to the special needs residents in the community. This program is breathing in new life, joy and love to those who are limited in their abilities to participate in the fine arts under normal circumstances.

  In 2012, Julie Crouch, Executive Director of the Cross Timbers Fine Arts Council (CTFAC), was challenged to find a new avenue of outreach to the local special needs community. The mission of the CTFAC is to enrich the artistic environment and make art accessible to all citizens of the Cross Timbers Area. “I immediately contacted Cathy and asked her how can we meet this challenge,” Julie said. “We needed someone to administer and direct the program and I knew Cathy was the best. She jumped at the chance and she has created something amazing. She was given carte blanche on the curriculum as far as how she does and what she does to accomplish this vision. Across the curriculum the participants encounter all kinds of art mediums. She truly helps to achieve our mission, to give access of the arts to all citizens.”

Working as a Board Certified Music Therapist in the Cross Timbers Area since 1978, Cathy is aware of the benefits available by going beyond the classroom for this sector of the community. “Julie asked if I had some ideas for providing arts-related experiences for people in our community with disabilities. I was so familiar with the interests, needs, and challenges of all these individuals, that the idea for the AccessARTS project just jumped in my head.”

Quickly the program took shape and the group found itself with two main purposes according to Cathy. “The purposes of the AccessARTS program are to provide opportunities for individuals in the community and students in Stephenville and Dublin ISD schools who have significant developmental disabilities and other challenges to participate actively in enriching learning experiences focusing on classic visual art, drama, and music, and to provide a resource for teachers and classroom aids for effectively teaching the fine arts in their life skills classrooms.”

Currently, students enrolled in the life skills classes in all levels of the Stephenville and Dublin ISD are participating in the AccessARTS program. The program is also offered to around two dozen adults with special needs in the community. Reaching out to those who are often unable to participate in traditional programs benefits everyone per Cathy. “Our community as a whole benefits any time the lives of a specific group of people are enriched. Each class or group takes a field trip to my home arts studio (AccessARTS Clubhouse) for a one-time 2-hour AccessARTS experience. Each session is custom-designed to meet the needs of the individual students. Because I spend time weekly with each of these individuals in music therapy at their schools or other venues, I am personally familiar with each of these individuals, so I can customize the arts experiences in a way that allows each person to participate to their maximum potential. The AccessARTS Clubhouse provides customized opportunities for our friends with significant limitations to experience the fine arts and to join with others to create artistic masterpieces in their own style. “
Due to the work of the CTFAC and a sponsorship from the Stephenville Evening Lions Club, the AccessARTS program brings all the community together to experience art through creation or appreciation. The art created by the program is displayed throughout town in public places. They have a large collaborative painting of van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ on permanent display in the children’s section of the Stephenville Library. With all parts working together, an underserved portion of the community is now bringing new levels of beauty to better Stephenville’s public places.

    For more information on the program, contact Cathy Knoll or Julie Crouch at the Cross Timbers Fine Arts Council