Art gives artist with Down Syndrome and Autism a voice

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Dana Anderson’s journey as an artist started with a blank canvas a year and a half ago. Her next stop is the Huntsville Botanical Garden for a fundraiser and exhibit called “Beyond Barriers.” We recently caught up with her at the Inside Out Studio at Lowe Mill. Executive Director Sherry Broyles was assisting Dana.

“Ok Dana. Let’s get going,” she said while pulling a blank board from a storage bin. Sherry sat down next to Dana and asked, “Which color do you want?” Dana pointed at a tube of paint. “This one?” Sherry asked. “Okay.” Dana pointed to where she wanted the paint and Sherry squeezed it out onto the canvas.

The 25-year-old artist got into art by chance. “Basically, I brought her here to give her an activity,” Dana’s mother told me. Janet Anderson was looking for something her daughter could do and the studio was the perfect place. Inside Out is a studio for artists with special needs.

Dana has Down Syndrome and Autism. After a few visits, something clicked. “We noticed an emerging artist coming out.” Janet said. “The work she does is incredible here, raw talent.” That was a year and a half ago. Dana’s abstract works are museum worthy. “She’s very prolific,” Sherry said.

Dana paints several hours a week. “It’s changed Dana’s life,” her mother said. Her art gives her a voice. “Dana is more than non-verbal,” Janet said. “She’s low functioning. She doesn’t care for herself. She can’t read, write or speak. And this endeavor in art really does become her voice for the community.” Sherry added, “There’s many fascinating things about Dana as an artist but one of the most fascinating has been watching her grow as an artist.”

That voice will be loud and clear when her work is displayed at the Huntsville Botanical Garden March 2 through April 30. “That in itself is a huge step for special needs population,” Janet said. “Dana will be the very first ever, most challenged artist in the state to have her very own art exhibit.”

It gives Dana a platform to help others like her. “We should expand the minds of our young people to see that given an opportunity, people with disabilities can do great things,” Janet said. “She’s a perfect example of why special needs students should be allowed to participate in more of the arts.”

Dana has created more than 150 paintings so far. “She concentrates very deeply when she does a piece,” Sherry said. “But it doesn’t take her long to do a finished wonderful piece of art.” 100 of those pieces will be sold to raise money for the studio which survives on grants and donations.

Janet smiled when she said, “You have a lot artists that come in here and might come every single day and they work on the same piece and Dana comes once a week for 90 minutes to two hours and she’ll go through six or eight pieces.” Dana will be helping those who have helped her.

“The most important thing to me is that she is so happy. And this is the first time I’ve seen her really proud of something,” Janet said. “It’s just a joy for me as a parent to see her finally have a voice.” Again, an invitation only event will be held March 1. The next day, 20 pieces of Dana’s art will part of a public exhibit at the Botanical Garden until the end of April. Those will available for purchase.