In early December I was fortunate enough to spend some time as a visiting writer with members of the Gateway Arts writing group. Gateway Arts, located in Brookline, Massachusetts, is “dedicated to providing individualized, arts-based services to adults with disabilities, and supporting meaningful lives and careers in art” as its stated mission. It is a place where “artists are encouraged to follow their dreams and create a unique career.” Gateway Arts is a service of Vinfen, New England’s most comprehensive provider of human services to individuals with disabilities.
When I arrived, the group of four artist/writers were gathered in a corner office with Sarah, Gateway’s Multimedia Supervisor & Community Integration Coordinator. A young woman and three men sat with their work in front of them, already engaged in the class. They welcomed me in and introduced themselves. I had worked with a couple of the writers on a previous visit and it was good to see they were still at it.
Mike shared his work first. An eager and enthusiastic participant, Mike has wide eyes and an innocent expression. His rapid speech and his excitement about his work can combine to propel him into new creative thoughts. His work is influenced heavily by Japanese Manga comics and in particular by the work of the Japanese artist Osamu Tezuka. Mike has written a long fantasy chronicle in the style of the manga series Captain Tsubasa. We talked about world-building and the importance of creating a consistent set of rules for his universe. Several of the other writers are also involved in world-building, so we had a lively discussion.
George was working on a Godzilla story, which he was rendering in comic book form. His media heroes are Matt Groenig of The Simpsons and Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy. He writes his own pilots for prospective TV series and is very interested in series’ ‘bibles’, the world-building documents of all TV series. He has already published several comic books through Gateway. George is reserved and soft-spoken and his work is meticulous and well thought out.
Mimi was quiet and a bit withdrawn until I looked over her shoulder at her notebook. She was writing a kind of diary, using lists to record activities. There was a list of restaurants and lists of relatives. We talked a bit about contemporary writers, like Nick Hornby, who use lists in their writing.
Darryl had been waiting his turn to share his work, but when he did his quiet intensity came through. A stockily-built dark-complected man with a wary smile, Darryl talked about his upbringing and how his mother was always trying to protect him from the world. He was not able to travel and have adventures the way he would have liked. He is writing and illustrating a children’s book about an elephant who travels the world and has amazing experiences. His black-and-white pencil drawings are exquisite. Darryl has ambitions to publish his book when it is finished.
There were questions about the publishing world as these writers are as anxious to get their work into the world as any. Gateway Arts publishes the work of their writers using small press facilities. The books and artwork are available at their store on Harvard St, in Brookline. It was a privilege to work with these writers. I couldn’t help but admire their commitment to the work, their hard-working imaginations, and their joy in sharing the product. These artists may not be able to hold high-functioning jobs in the workplace, but the pride in their work and dedication to excellence is evident in the expressive work they create. As stated on the Gateway website, when a Gateway client was asked what she did for a living, she replied simply, “I am an artist.”