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Public Relations Manager

      For 448 days, Creative Clay’s Community Arts Program, Art Around the World Summer Camp and Summer Studio were shuttered because of Covid-19. When Pinellas County Schools reopened last August for in-person instruction, our Transition student artists, who are Pinellas County Schools’ students, returned. But the Community Arts Program classroom and Good Folk Gallery were empty and quiet.

According to The Disability Scoop News, a review of private health insurance claims data for 467,773 people diagnosed with the coronavirus in the U.S. between April and August 2020 found that individuals with developmental disorders are three times more likely to die compared to others.

Out of an abundance of caution for its member artists, Creative Clay continued to operate its Creative Clay Connects virtual classes and offer gallery shopping by appointment only.

A National Public Radio (NPR) story stated that individuals with disabilities are four times more likely to die from COVID-related complications.

“The high rate of death is disturbing, but it’s not surprising,” said Scott Landes, an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Landes has been collecting data from state and private research groups and says people with developmental disabilities who live in group homes have some of the highest death rates from COVID-19 in the country.

“They’re more likely — four times more likely, we’re showing — to actually contract COVID-19 than the general population,” he said. “And then if they do contract COVID-19, what we’re seeing is they’re about two times more likely to die from it.”

The closure was a test of endurance and fortitude, and member artists thrived despite not being physically together. Member artists who transitioned to Creative Clay Connects online classes continued to create amazing art, learn new techniques and study art from a historical perspective with themed instruction.

Member Artist Marquise R., a Creative Clay Connects participant, is clearly in his element when he’s free to move about the spacious, bright Community Arts studio at Creative Clay’s headquarters in the Grand Central District of St. Pete. Reunited with his fellow artist friends and Teaching Artist Lisa Glaser’s pup, Rosco, in-person creating is a welcome respite.

“I feel great and awesome,” said Member Artist Marquise R. “It feels fun not being in my house all day. “

The artists’ reunion with friends and their teachers evoked emotion, too.

“I felt happy when I came back,” Member Artist Kevin H. said. “It always felt great being here.

Glaser echoed the artists’ sentiments.

“I missed the routine,” Glaser said. “I missed everyone, and I love bringing Rosco.”

Last March when Creative Clay closed would’ve when parents were choosing summer activities for their kids. The closure meant that its inclusive Art Around the World summer camp and Summer Studio for young adults was canceled. CEO Kim Dohrman is pleased to be able to welcome back campers for its summer programs.

“Our camp is unique because it’s designed for inclusivity, welcoming children with developmental disabilities alongside children without. Many learning environments are segregated, but we feel diversity—including diversity of abilities—is so important for all ages.”

Summer Studio Instructor Julie Price is thrilled, too.

“It’s good to be back,” she said. “It has been a long year.”

     Art Around the World filled up quickly, with programming focused on the art and culture of Scotland, Zimbabwe, Laos and New Zealand. The kids have settled in nicely and have produced great art, which is exhibited weekly at the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

When you walk into Creative Clay’s Good Folk Gallery, the hum of a busy arts studio, with music and creativity reverberating through the halls. Shopping in the gallery and its Creative Thrift pay-what-you-wish store for repurposed art supplies, frames, books and more has resumed. With a vision of equality through art, Creative Clay can fully realize serve all who want to create, learn and sell their art.

Member Artist Gina K. exuded happiness at returning to the studio.

“My friends, it’s good to be back here,” she said. “It feels great. I’m happy, doing fishes and smiles. I’m full of joy.”

     Creative Clay’s vision is to make the arts accessible to all. Our mission is to help people with disabilities achieve full and inclusive lives through access to the arts by providing expressive, educational, and vocational experiences.

Creative Clay’s core program is its Community Arts Program, which serves 50-60 adult artists with neuro-differences each week. Through the implementation of additional offerings, such as the inclusive Art Around the World summer campSummer Studio for older teens and young adults, Artlink employment program, Creative Care Arts in Wellness outreach program, and its Pinellas County Schools’ partnership Transition program, individuals of all ages and abilities are mentored, taught and empowered to become working artists who actively create, market and sell their work. The result is that a formerly stigmatized population, through the art it creates and sells, demystifies stereotypes surrounding those with disabilities and creates a culture of acceptance throughout the community.

Learn more about Creative Clay at Follow on Facebook, on Instagram @creativeclaystpete, on Twitter @creativeclay, and on LinkedIn.

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