CapeCodCan! Exposes Those With Disabilities to the Power of Art

Joan Houlihan, the senior sales director for Atria Woodbriar, showcases the painting she purchased from CapeCodCan!'s art show at the Falmouth assisted living facility.CHRISTOPHER KAZARIAN/ENTERPRISE - Joan Houlihan, the senior sales director for Atria Woodbriar, showcases the painting she purchased from CapeCodCan!'s art show at the Falmouth assisted living facility.

Idealists would argue that each person should have the same opportunities as everyone else, but in life this is far from a reality.

Since the start of this year one Sandwich-based group, dubbed CapeCodCAN!, short for Cape Cod Collaborative Arts Network, is trying to change that by providing those with mental and physical disabilities a chance to express themselves through art.

James D. Hurley, founder and managing director of the nonprofit, was inspired to offer such opportunities in large part after his grandson Roan, 8, suffered a brain injury when he was 6 months old. That injury forced Mr. Hurley and his wife, Anne K. Hurley, to spend roughly two and half years in Stillwater, Minnesota, helping their daughter and her husband care for Roan.

“It was certainly traumatic for all of us when that happened,” Mr. Hurley said. “He was a beautiful young boy and he still is.”

That experience served as the foundation of CapeCodCAN!, but only after Mr. Hurley attended a meeting of the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts at the Cotuit Center for the Arts two years ago. “The fellow next to me was a brain injury survivor and told me, ‘I was in a show at Cape Cod Community College and it helped my memory and self-esteem,’ ” Mr. Hurley recounted.

That conversation served as Mr. Hurley’s “aha moment,” in which he realized how he could use his time and effort helping those on Cape Cod who may have suffered similar fates to that of Roan.

So he set about contacting various agencies throughout the Cape, looking for ways to expose those with disabilities to the literary, visual and performing arts.

The result of those efforts was first witnessed this past January, when more than 90 residents stood on stage at the Cotuit Center for the Arts and performed three sold-out shows—the third, a rehearsal, was added after the first two were fully booked—of popular show tunes selections, including takeoffs from “Grease,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “The Sound of Music,” that was dubbed “Broadway and Beyond.”

Emotional Experience

“I cried from the minute I started to see these people on stage who never had a chance before to experience art,” said Joan Houlihan, who sits on the board of directors for CapeCodCAN!

Norma J. Atwood of South Yarmouth, the director for that show and subsequent ones—CapeCodCAN! has since produced a Beatles tribute show at Sandwich’s Riverview School in April as well as a “Broadway Revisited” show in Sandwich in June—agreed with that sentiment. “Definitely the reaction from the audience was amazing. So many came in not understanding what we were about to do and there were smiles, applause, tears and a sense of joy with everybody,” she said. “For me it was the best thing I’ve ever done in my career.”

Ms. Houlihan, who also serves as the senior sales director for Atria Woodbriar, had a hand in bringing the latest CapeCodCAN! program, Art is For Everyone, to Falmouth.

 “For me it was the best thing I’ve ever done in my career.”

                                    Norma Atwood 

Students participating in the classes ranged in age from teenagers to adults in their late 50s and early 60s. Some had autism while others suffered from brain injuries. “Most have a variety of development and cognitive disabilities rather than physical,” Ms. D’Agostino said. “A lot of the students I worked with are highly functional and fairly independent.”

Under the direction of Pocasset’s Tessa D’Agostino, teachers throughout Cape Cod worked with over 100 students representing 12 different agencies to help convey the theme “Art is MY Music” in visual form, starting in September. Among the agencies involved in the eight-week program were Cape Abilities of Hyannis and Eastham; Independence Farm in Sandwich; Living Independently Forever (LIFE) of Mashpee; and the Plan It Network of Falmouth.

Ms. D’Agostino taught a class of roughly 22 students from the Riverview School in Sandwich and LIFE in Mashpee, meeting with them weekly to help them take the music-related theme and find a way to project that onto a visual medium.

Variety of Artwork

The results were as varied as the students she and her colleagues taught: the “Dark Side of the Moon,” a framed acrylic painting by Gary Sloane, is an assortment of red, green and yellow colors over a dark background while “Energy of Music” by Nina Aronson is more vivid, set against a pink background with a black guitar painted on the left and a large G clef taking up the other half with the word “Music” over both.

These and more than 100 other pieces were exhibited last month in the hallway connecting the newly constructed Woodbriar Place with the older Woodbriar Terrace. The assisted-living facility hosted an opening for the show in November in which over 300 people attended, including many of the students.

“One of the most rewarding parts of the process is they get to share what they’ve accomplished, which creates inspiration for the people viewing the work,” Ms. D’Agostino said.

Over half of the roughly 50 pieces being sold were purchased the first night including one by Ms. Houlihan created by Shannon Flannery titled “My Heart Will Go On” that has those words painted on the top half underneath which are three rows of arrows pointing to a heart against a blue background. Ms. Houlihan said she bought the piece to remind her of the power that art can have on these students. “It is beyond your wildest dreams how important this becomes in their lives, but you could see it by just looking and watching their faces as they saw their artwork on the walls,” she said. “These are people who never had a chance to experience this type of art until now.”

To learn more about CapeCodCan! visit their website here


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