Able ARTS Work makes art accessible 

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When Helen Dolas founded Able ARTS Work nearly 40 years ago, she saw there was a need in the Long Beach community.

For many people with disabilities, there was very little care available that wasn’t attached to a state hospital, let alone any artistic services that were accessible.

That all changed with the founding of Able ARTS Work, which brings creative services and art therapies to all people, with an emphasis on serving people with disabilities.

“The arts are human, we’re wired for rhythm, we’re wired for sound, we’re wired for music . . . our speech is rhythmic, our walk is rhythmic,” said Dolas. “Everything about us has rhythm and movement, and music and art and dance are all part of that humanistic life experience, so we need the arts to drive our brains.”

Music is the only thing that can activate the entire brain, said Dolas, and it is not necessary to be an artist or a musician in order to be creative.

Not only does art and music benefit academic progress as well as critical thinking, but it can also allow for the unconscious self to express itself, she explained.

“There may be something problematic or a challenge that a child or adult might have, where they may not feel safe or comfortable to talk about or express those thoughts or feelings, but it can come out in the creative arts, it can come out in art therapy,” she said. “A trained art therapist is able to recognize those symbols and those signs within the artwork to be able to follow and address those in a therapeutic process.”

Compared to in arts education that is more product oriented, art therapy is instead more process oriented, said Dolas.

The nonprofit, which initially started with single-day programs for adults with developmental disabilities, has extended to include three-day programs and services for children and teens in the greater Los Angeles area.

Artists work on a moral prior to the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Able ARTS Work.

In 2022, Able ARTS is even introducing its programming to San Diego.

The organization tries to reach as many people as possible, working with schools, community centers, and other day programs, even working in incarceration settings and with at-risk youth, said chief operations officer Honor Dunn.

Adults with developmental disabilities can receive one-on-one services within their homes, and children with autism can utilize the organization’s health and wellness clinic. Accessible arts workshops aim to reach those in marginalized and underserved communities, she said.

Particularly since the pandemic, the organization was able to pivot quickly and connect to the community with an inclusive, accessible learning site, Learn for Life, which focuses on creativity and wellness, professional development, and continuing education.

“This has been such a difficult time and it has really affected the communities that we serve—the isolation, the loneliness, the lack of services that are out there, it’s real,” said Dunn. “The culture of the organization is this constant, ‘How can we be better, and how can we make ourselves more accessible? How can we make ourselves more inclusive? And how can we have a higher level of representation?’”

Able ARTS Work participants can take classes varying from visual arts, music, drama, or dance, with many of the classes emphasizing community connection and engagement as well as employment, said Dunn.

Opportunities in podcast producing or displaying art in a gallery are offered to students, particularly through the organization’s 2nd & PCH Gallery over the past year and a half. In January, the location will be moving to the Expo Arts Center in Bixby Knolls.

The nonprofit sees the arts as a viable option for employment for many students, and areas of opportunity are addressed while creating a bridge between the students and community.

Carlos Arredondo poses with his artwork. Photo courtesy of Able ARTS Work.

Through the organization’s gallery space, many participants have become working artists, and since the pandemic, Able ARTS Work students have sold more artwork than ever before in the organization’s history.

“I can probably safely say that we’re the first nonprofit in the city of Long Beach to be able to create that opportunity for individuals with disabilities to be able to submit artwork, display their artwork in an exhibition and then to be able to sell their artwork and become gainfully employed,” said Dolas.

According to Dolas, many students typically do not have access to jobs and are at poverty levels, but selling their artwork has allowed some to come off of SSI and better support themselves.

“We create that bridge of understanding and accommodation so that being an artist in the community is accessible to all of our students,” she said.

Whether the outcome is becoming a professional artist, advancing social or language skills, or addressing physical or emotional development, Able ARTS Work aims to make sure anyone can have an artistic experience, no matter any differences physically, cognitively or emotionally, said Dolas.

The next step for the organization is to find its own permanent home in Long Beach, hopefully during 2022. Contribute to its capital campaign here.

Library Foundation welcomes new executive director 

The Long Beach Public Library Foundation Board of Directors announced its new executive director and CEO on Dec. 27. Veronica Garcia Dávalos, who brings more than 30 years of nonprofit management experience to her role, will assume her position on Jan. 17.

Dávalos will lead the Library Foundation as it begins a new era having just celebrated its 25th anniversary year and over $25 million raised for programs and resources at the city’s 12 public libraries since its founding.

Currently, Dávalos serves as executive director of the Greater Long Beach, South May, Metro, and Southeast Los Angeles Chapter of the American Red Cross, and has previously served as vice president of advocacy and community engagement for Habitat for Humanity Greater Los Angeles affiliate. She has also served in various executive positions for Netzel Grigsby (a management and consulting firm specializing in nonprofit organizations and institutions), the MOLAA, TELACU Education Foundation, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, KCET, and the Boys Scouts of America.

In addition to her work leading nonprofit organizations, Dávalos serves on the Long Beach Citizens Police Complaint Commission, is a past president of Leadership Long Beach, and co-founder of the United Latino Fund and National Latina Alliance.

Dávalos joins the Library Foundation following the departure of former Executive Director/CEO Kate Azar in June of this year, after over five years leading the organization.

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