An Art Teacher Reflects On A Decade Of Working With Adults With Disabilities

Jan 2, 2017

Teresa Martuccio, 36, has worked with adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities for more than a decade. For the last several years, she taught art at Community Living and Support Services, also known as CLASS, in Regent Square.

90.5 WESA’s Liz Reid caught up with Martuccio on her last day as a full-time teacher with the program, right after a surprise going away party thrown by her students and co-workers.

Teresa Martuccio says goodbye to her students at a going away party at CLASS on Wednesday, December 21, 2016.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

On why she loves working with people with disabilities:

Every day is different. Every day is fun. It's kind of like not working because you're just hanging out with people that you like to hang out with and you're just helping everybody be the best that they can be.

On why artistic expression is important for adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities:

A lot of people are nonverbal or have a hard time maybe verbally expressing themselves, and this gives them a way to let people know who they are. Everyone has their own style and has their own way.

A painting by CLASS client Kim Weidman.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Through the culture of disability people do a lot of things for them, so when they come into art they think they like really think they can't do a lot of things or they're like, “Oh I can't do that.” You hear a lot of “I can’ts." Just being patient and encouraging, you know, I help them through the steps and eventually my goal is to have them have confidence and be more independent. I want to see everybody creating as independently as they can.

This one woman, I remember, when she first came into my art class she was like, “I can't draw, I can’t paint, I can't do anything.” She would have me draw everything and then she wanted me to tape things off so she could have clean lines. And then you know just like little pushes. This is like a nine year span and now she is completely drawing everything independently. She's choosing her subjects. She's challenging herself. She's drawing and painting completely on her own. She doesn't talk a lot but you can really get an idea of who she is because she has such she loves the tiniest little details of things and she picks a lot of like beachy, watery pictures to paint.

On what she’ll miss most about working at CLASS:

A goodbye gift made for Martuccio by her students.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

It’s really like family. Everybody here really cares about people here. They can tell if you're having a bad day and they'll give you hugs and make you stuff. And I think that it's just so supportive and encouraging and inspiring. I mean, something that I loved about my art class was you know just really letting people be who they want to be. They've all said that they feel really comfortable to do whatever they want to do. I've had declarations of love. People have announced crushes. People have come out in my art class. They come up with drag names. Just creating this culture of letting people be whoever they want to be. I think it goes beyond the canvas … but just human expression in general. Helping foster that is really important, because we all are so different and we need to celebrate that.