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RapidChat: Angela Steele

Regardless of your cultural background, financial status, or the language you speak, art is a universal mode of communication for all. This is something that Angela Steele, Executive Director of Artists Creating Together, knows very well. She knows that art sees no boundaries, no barriers, and it can bring self confidence and self worth to a person of any age, or any level of skill.

Regardless of your cultural background, financial status, or the language you speak, art is a universal mode of communication for all. This is something that Angela Steele, Executive Director of Artists Creating Together, knows very well. She knows that art sees no boundaries, no barriers, and it can bring self confidence and self worth to a person of any age, or any level of skill.
Rapid Growth: How did you first get involved with Artists Creating Together (ACT)?
 
Angela Steele: When I talk about disability, I always start with my own family. We have three children; one of our sons was born with a disability. My first exposure to ACT and ACT’s artist was through Ken-O-Sha Wellerwood Early Childhood Center, where my son was exploring pottery, puppetry and music. The students in his early childhood class were predominately non-verbal or utilized one to two word combinations. When observing a typical class, each of the six students was often doing his/her own thing in the company of the other children, but not truly with other children. When observing an ACT art exploration, it was the first time I saw those children become a community of learners. They communicated more through art in 30 minutes than they did in an entire day.  I witnessed children that I’d never heard utter a sound or word squeal with delight and move to the music.  It was as if the ACT artists flicked a switch in each of them. At that moment I knew that I wanted my son more involved with the arts and I knew that I needed to get involved with ACT and that my family needed to support ACT programming for more individuals with disabilities. 
 
Fast forward three years: He is an artist! I am highly involved with ACT. My family fully supports ACT. And now, I have the pleasure of passing the gift of arts and involvement to the community as a whole.   
 
RG: Wow! That sounds like it was such an eye-opening experience. How did that make you feel as a mother?
 
AS: Selfishly, I feel thankful because I have the opportunity to learn about all these special education programs behind the scenes, and I get to learn about moms that are further along this journey than us. These students are tapping into unfound abilities, and that’s exciting to see.
 
RG: What is your background in?
 
AS: I am from Holland, Mich. and am a graduate of Hope College and Walden University. I have a language arts degree, an active teacher’s certification, and a Master's of Science in education. I have experience teaching children and adults of diverse backgrounds and teaching those with special needs. I have taught in the public schools at the elementary level, have been an adult education teacher, and have been a corporate trainer for local companies. I also have local non-profit experience directing education and family programming. I enjoy working in the areas of education, leadership, the arts, and professional learning communities. 
 
I am actively involved in supporting art and education throughout the community. I deeply appreciate the gifts of learning that I have shared with students and their families. I am especially grateful to ACT for the opportunity to grow, lead, and serve with so many talented and dedicated staff, artists, interns, and volunteers. 
 
RG: What have been some of the most rewarding experiences in your time doing all of those things?
 
AS: I have seen first graders learn to read, and that’s very profound. I see adults learning English for the first time, and it’s amazing. I am so proud of our student’s accomplishments because it means so much to our students. There are performances that are the highlight of these student’s month. The students are so excited and engaged.
 
RG: What is the overall premise of ACT?
 
AS: Every person is valuable and deserves to be understood, and together, we can empower every child, every youth and every adult to reach his or her potential. The arts are a fundamental tool in helping all people to reach their potential, and ACT empowers every person to be active, positive and contributing members of our community. 
 
Artists Creating Together connects Teaching Artists with individuals who have disabilities at all life stages.
 
Our specially trained instructors are professional working artists who provide unique programming to students with differing needs in a variety of settings.

From partnership with local rehabilitation hospitals to community-wide educational events, we provide art and creative expression programming and classes that enrich and improve the lives of people with disabilities in every corner of our community.
 
RG: What is some of the feedback you hear from children and adults that participate in the program?
 
AS: So we hear parents talking about self confidence and self worth. They are selling their own art, showing it off, and it can be very empowering in itself. Students often say that ACT days are their favorite days of the week. They are so Grateful to be able to explore art together.
 
RG: How do most people hear about ACT?
 
AS: Our tagline at ACT is All Arts. All Abilities. We believe in bringing together everyone in our diverse community including those with and without disabilities.   
 
View our website, at ArtistsCreatingTogether.org, to view events and opportunities. We offer community art events for the whole family, programs for adults with disabilities, programs for area youth, and health and healing programs.  You may also stop by our studio at 1140 Monroe, NW, Ste 4101 or give us a call to hear what’s coming up at ACT.
 
We are always in need of volunteers.  Whether it’s through one-on-one student help in classes, administration assistance in the ACT office, or providing direction on one of our board committees, we rely on a team of volunteers to carry out our mission. There is always a list of one time and ongoing opportunities on our website.
 
RG: Are there any pre-qualifiers to getting involved with ACT? 
 
AS: No. Anyone can take a class at act. Anyone of any ability. There are certain classes, especially designed for individuals with disabilities. You can try them out to see if they are fitting to your level.
 
RG: Why is an arts education so transformational for individuals with disabilities?
 
AS: For all of us, art is a vital part of brain development. It fosters critical cognitive skills such as social intelligence and decision making, and at every stage of life it has rich implications for growth and learning. 
 
There are 60 million individuals with disabilities in the United States living with physical, social, and mental barriers to success.  For this group, building brain pathways through social connection and experiential art is particularly connected to life outcomes. 
 
We assist in releasing creativity. Everyone has an inner artist. Find yours! 

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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