It’s pretty easy – I’m an artist! Right before COVID, I got on a bus and headed down to Austin, Texas. I spent those few hours looking out the window and feeling excited but nervous.
Usually, I paint alone in my art studio with my dog, Percy, and my studio assistant, mom. But that day I had been asked to travel to Austin to work with an artist in his studio. We would get to know each other, and then continue to collaborate on a couple of paintings that would be shown side-by-side in an art show called Tandem. I said, “Yes, I would do it.” Working as a professional artist I love painting every day in my studio, creating what’s in my mind, and being free. Free to do what I want. Free to do what makes me happy. Free to be ME. But I also really love working with other artists. I love making connections. I love being with people who want to be with me. I love friends and friendship.
But making connections with people can be hard for me because I have Down syndrome and Regression Disorder. For me, that means I get distracted. I can be very shy and quiet. I can get very anxious if a dog starts barking or a baby cries. I can feel embarrassed, so I whisper or don’t talk at all. I shut down. People give up on me. And I give up, too. The place I feel safest making connections is in my art studio in my home. Sometimes though you have to take risks to be with people, and that day, I decided to take that risk.
Shortly after I got off the bus, I met artist Will Bryant. He smiled, and said hey, and welcomed me into his safe place, his studio. He had paper, paints, brushes, and these cool art markers that I hadn’t tried before. Together we painted on our own, and then together we created our designs side-by-side on paper. It was a conversation in creation. Will’s design. Then Charlie’s design. Then Will. Then Charlie. Back and forth. Our marks were telling a story, forming a friendship. And in between, we talked. We smiled. We connected.
Will saw me as a fellow professional. He saw me as an artist. He valued me, and as an adult with a disability that experience was huge. For Will, it seemed to come naturally – he was open-minded and kind. Simply a good human. Next month, Will and I will be in that art show Tandem, and together, we will show our paintings we created from that day of inspiration. It has been a fun journey, and I feel lucky to have found a peer who sees me as I want to be seen.
I hope other people will follow Will’s lead and be kind and open and value, respect and see adults with disabilities as they each individually wish to be seen. I think it’s pretty easy.
And for Will Bryant, it sure was.