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Extraordinary Ventures brings art to community with art classes

Extraordinary Ventures exhibits the work completed during its program at a red carpet event hosted for the artists. Courtesy of Cyndi Whisnant. 

Extraordinary Ventures exhibits the work completed during its program at a red carpet event hosted for the artists. Courtesy of Cyndi Whisnant. 

In partnership with Happymess Art Studios, Chapel Hill nonprofit Extraordinary Ventures begins its weekly “Extraordinary Artists” classes tonight.

The classes function as a place for people with developmental challenges to express themselves through art while also providing an art history teaching component.

“It’s another great way for our folks to have a social outlet and really enjoy art,” said Cyndi Whisnant, events director at Extraordinary Ventures.

Whisnant helps manage the 40 individuals the organization works with. She said the events the nonprofit facilitates provide an excellent opportunity for adults with autism to explore passions, find employment and interact with the world in a nonthreatening way.

“Some people are hesitant to interact with people who have disabilities,” Whisnant said. “When they see what these men and women can do, it really opens up discussion and takes some of the fear out of interaction.”

Extraordinary Ventures’ classes were made possible through a grant received from the Orange County Arts Commission, which helps nonprofit organizations collaborate with area art studios and galleries.

“We’re trying to provide arts experiences to people who probably wouldn’t get to have them otherwise,” said Happymess Art Studios owner Holly Phelan.

Phelan said Happymess has been expanding its community outreach to create more opportunities in the arts and that providing for these groups has been rewarding and fun.

“Our first class is going to be a collage one where we’ll be talking about the impressionist Henri Rousseau,” she said. “We’re going to have them collage a jungle theme, and we’ve cut out a lot of animal pictures and things for them to work with.”

Participants are invited to create art in whatever style most suits them, and many of 2013’s participants have signed up a second time.

“We really appreciate having them provide all they do,” said Shau-Hong Toscano, whose son is a frequent participant in the classes.

Toscano said her son Euan is an avid painter and is excited to again participate in the event. While she said he does not like to talk, painting gives him a way to express himself.

“He loves working with colors, and our house is full of his paintings,” she said. “He’s not a disruptive person, he just has trouble sometimes talking with people sometimes.”

When the classes end in November, Extraordinary Ventures exhibits the work and caters a red carpet event for the artists.

“We want it to be a really special night for the artists and their families,” Whisnant said. “A lot of times these people are defined by their disabilities, but we want them to be defined by their abilities instead.”

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