When Judy began doing volunteer work with a Monday afternoon art group run by Uniting Vic.Tas she couldn’t have anticipated that it would spark her own creative journey.
Judy attends the Gifford Arts Program at the Gifford Village Community Centre, which incorporates the Croydon North Uniting Church in Melbourne’s east.
“Gifford Arts blends people with and without disabilities who have a common interest and purpose in creating amazing visual art,” Uniting Vic.Tas community engagement officer Jane Davoren said.
“We have people in the group who have mental health issues such as anxiety, and depression as well as those with mild intellectual disabilities and sensory impairment.”
Professional artist Artur Lyczba acts as a mentor for the 20 people who regularly attend.
“The group is so diverse and we certainly encourage anyone turning up for a come-and-try experience. Some group members have not picked up a pencil/paintbrush since school days,” Jane said.
“Each person works on their own art at their own pace with Artur’s support and help.”
Judy, a retiree, began volunteering at the group 10 years ago to assist people with severe physical disabilities hold and use the art equipment and materials.
She kept attending even after no group member required that assistance.
“Over the time I’ve gone from being a volunteer to being part of the group and doing artwork,” Judy said.
“At the time I joined I was going through a marriage break-up, so things for me were pretty tough.
“The group is my therapy, it makes me feel good.”
As well as enjoying the tactile experience of handling oil pastels, Judy said she had made friends.
“The people who come, you get to know them all,” Judy said.
“There is a real community feel to it. It doesn’t matter if someone can’t converse very well, we seem to be able to communicate. It’s just spending time with people.”
The group, however, is about more than socialising.
Judy said Artur challenged every participant to reach their artistic potential.
“He is absolutely fantastic at bringing out the best in people. He demands really good things,” she said.
Group members are also supportive.
“There’s always someone there who’s going to give you some positive feedback,” Judy said.
For Judy this has led to the unexpected benefit of proving her childhood teachers wrong.
“I was from a generation that was told at school, if you couldn’t draw something that looks like a landscape or a portrait then you weren’t an artist,” Judy said.
“I think my style is more on the abstract. I just pick a colour I like and something appears.”
Judy’s works have been included in the group’s general exhibitions and as a result she has “sold a few”.
“I never thought I would do that,” Judy said.
“That’s something I wouldn’t have achieved had I not gone to that group.”
Artwork by members of the Gifford Arts Program is being exhibited at Maroondah Access Gallery in Ringwood until 13 July.