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Special artists' work is expected to draw a crowd

Mike Minieri holds a piece that will be for sale. The artists receive 50 percent of the sales price; Harborside Studios uses the balance to buy more art supplies.
Published Aug. 6, 2015

SAFETY HARBOR

It was a dreary, rain-soaked summer day, but inside a classroom at Harborside Studios, it was all happiness and sunshine as a group of intellectually and developmentally disabled artists discussed their forthcoming art show at Syd Entel Galleries, one of the most esteemed commercial galleries in the Tampa Bay area.

"We do it for the love of art," said Chris Guenther, 46.

Jason Baker, 36, corrected him.

"We do it for the love of money."

The class erupted in laughter.

The seventh annual Special Art by Special Hands show is slated for Wednesday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Watercolors, acrylics, ceramics, painted furniture, jewelry and other items will be on display and available for purchase at Syd Entel Galleries and the nearby Harborside Studios. This year's publicity poster, a fun and funky modern abstract, was created by Donny Syck, a talented 34-year-old man with Down syndrome.

Sip the wine and nibble on hors d'oeuvres as you contemplate the unique talent and creativity of this special population.

Past shows have been hugely popular, so arrive early for the best selection.

"People have learned to get there early," said Madison Hauenstein, executive director of the Arc Tampa Bay Foundation (formerly UPARC), the nonprofit presenting the exhibit. "We usually sell out before the show is even over. It's a good problem to have."

The artists receive 50 percent of the sales price; Harborside Studios uses the balance to buy more art supplies. The day program, under the direction of the Arc Tampa Bay, serves 43 individuals each week.

Prices range from $20 for a print to $350 for a framed original art portrait.

Many pieces of original art have been photographed and turned into coasters, hot plates, cutting boards and T-shirts. Orders will be taken for those who fancy a piece and want it transformed into these specialty items.

In general, the artwork radiates warmth and cheerfulness, while reflecting the native surroundings of the artists. Florals, sea life and sunsets are some of the more common themes.

Visitors will see a giraffe painted with multicolored patches on its coat and a schooner created with amazing detail. Jenny McVey's Vase, above, a framed floral portrait packed with geometry and emotion, will be sold during a special auction.

"It's inspiring to see what these artists can do," Hauenstein said. "The art is just incredible."

Michelle Ault, Harborside's director, said the students do at least 90 percent of all artwork themselves under the guidance and instruction of a team of teachers.

And why do so many of these individuals seem so gifted when it comes to art?

"It's just natural; it comes from within," Ault said.

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