When WAE Center Director Marilynn Schneider sat down to contemplate what the word “inclusion” meant to her personally and to society as a whole, she realized that the answer was seated directly beneath her — it was her chair.
The WAE Center, which stands for wellness, arts and enrichment located at the Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled in West Orange — was “founded on the belief that each individual possesses the potential for creating a meaningful life.” Their facilitators implement inclusion on a daily basis to bring together as equals those of diverse abilities.
From this philosophy sprang Schneider’s idea for “Chairs of Inclusion,” a traveling exhibit that will arrive at Wildflowers Too Gallery in Barnegat Light Friday, July 10, and stay through July 28.
In this innovative, large-scale art exhibit, 11 chairs were created and designed by 11 New Jersey artists who collaborated with adults with developmental disabilities. The goal of the project is to “shift perceptions of ability, art and community.”
“These are high-quality art,” says Mary Birmingham, curator of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey in Summit, which displayed the exhibit in June. “Some are so inviting you want to sit in them, others are more sculptural. But all are art objects, imbued with the humanity and the essence of the people who participated in their creation.”
Aims of the WAE Center are to help those with disabilities “find the spark within,” to help them reach their full potential and to be continuously engaged with life, among others.
“It’s an interesting thing,” says Maggie Roedema, manager of Wildflowers Too. “Mary (Birmingham) was talking about the symbolism of chairs. We use them to nurture each other. We console each other in them, get comfort from them. It’s a distinctly human experience — no other creature uses them. The concept, inclusion, is that there is a seat at the table for everyone.”
The imaginative artists who conceptualized and created chairs are Jennifer Levine, Yvette Lucas, Susanna Baker, Tim Folzenlogen, Stephen Schwartz, Mansa Mussa, Onnie Strother, Lisa Ficarelli-Halpern, Gladys Barker Grauer, Ellen Hanauer and Dan Fenelon.
“My idea (for the chair) was to think of what it mean to me,” says artist Yvette Lucas of Montclair. “Acceptance, welcoming, the healing from being comforted — so I created the ‘Care Chair.’ And I wound up working differently. I Interviewed 12 different members and asked them to sit in the chair and talk about what inclusion meant to them. I used their thoughts and words (on the chair).”
Lucas, who is a nature photographer, also incorporated her photographs of trees, as well as a photo collage of the members’ hands — both used to represent support in a literal and figurative sense.
The chairs are all for sale, but according to Roedema, that’s not the main objective.
“The purpose is not necessarily to sell them,” she says. “The purpose is to raise awareness of the center and change ideas about art and inclusion.”
Lucas’ chair has already been sold, but the new owners are aware that their recent acquisition still has a ways to go before placing it in its new home.
“This is a touring exhibit,” Lucas says. “And they know that it’s scheduled to exhibit for a year.”