Picture this: You have finally, after months of worry and stress and hurt feelings, moved your aging mother into an assisted living facility. It has been a long road, but it’s really the best thing for her health and well-being. You speak with her weekly, and she complains frequently about being bored and feeling cooped up. The packed calendar they sent home with your admissions info appears to have been inflated. You try to suppress the twinge of guilt you feel when you talk to her.
Then one day, her tune changes. A new program called Art on Wheels has started, and instead of the yarn ornaments they had been doing in the arts and crafts room, she is learning complex and interesting art techniques like silk painting and screen printing. The same folks are bringing in a music therapist, and she is rehearsing for a summer concert. You can hear the change in her voice. She is excited about something for the first time in a long time. This is going to work out after all. You don’t know who these Art on Wheels people are, but they just made your life a little bit easier, and your mother’s life a whole lot better.
Sometimes, great things come from modest beginnings. That’s part of the origin story for Art on Wheels, a Richmond-based nonprofit committed to bringing comprehensive arts programming to RVA communities with limited access to the arts. Founded in 2007, Kevin and Andrea Orlosky started with an idea, a dining room, and a bookshelf crammed with art supplies.
Andrea, who serves as executive director, says the idea that “making art, creating something from nothing that is uniquely yours, is powerful and healing…and not enough people get the chance to do that.” She adds that for most of us, the experience of expressing ourselves and being empowered by abilities you might have never even known you had is important. “After recognizing that the many therapeutic benefits of the arts aren’t often available to the people who need them the most,” says Andrea, “Art on Wheels was launched to help change that in Richmond and the surrounding areas.”
Through Art on Wheels, the couple identified four themes for programming: Aging in the Arts; Arts and Disability; Healing in the Arts; and Arts in the Community. With these focus areas in place, the team at Art on Wheels developed a visual arts curriculum that offers techniques and projects that are challenging and adaptive for the targeted populations. “We found ways to bring in music therapists and performance artists to add to the visual art offerings,” says Kevin Orlosky, who serves as director of programs. “We reached out to facilities and communities we felt could benefit from arts programming, and soon, Richmond-area agencies were reaching out to us.”
Because the objective of Art on Wheels is to meet its communities where they are, all of the classes and workshops come to the facility. Through community-focused art, the Art on Wheels team strives to facilitate dialogue and healing through monumental works that are created by the community, for the community. From the Veterans’ Impact Project, where veterans were empowered to create their own monument to military service, to huge community murals, and the recent Find Art Doors project, Andrea says bold ideas that encourage massive community involvement are a big part of the outreach effort.
“Engaging with the community on art projects allows us to work together in new and fun ways to make something that is meaningful and representative of the people who live here,” says Kevin.
Art on Wheels quickly outgrew that dining room, and like Kevin and Andrea, who are expecting their second child this spring, the nonprofit continues to expand. “The idea that quality of life can be better, happier, and healthier with art is true,” says Kevin. “We uncovered a fundamental need in our community and continue to strive to meet it.”
Barbara Levine, who participates in Art on Wheels’ free Healing in the Arts program at Bon Secours, said, “Without Art on Wheels, I never would have discovered that painting needed to be part of my life… the program is helping me deal with new health issues and problems, and for that I am very, very grateful.”
RVA Arts Community Launches “Impressions of Courage”
Art on Wheels is launching its biggest community art project ever. In conjunction with Studio Two Three and benefitting LINC (the Legal Information Network for Cancer), Art on Wheels will create a monumental 1,000-foot long collograph print (and setting a Guinness Book world record in the process) that honors people in Richmond who have been affected by cancer. Learn more about the project by watching the video or visiting the Impressions of Courage website.
To learn more about Impressions of Courage, presented by VCU Massey Cancer Center, click here.