Spotlight On Inclusivity in the Arts: Starlight Studio and Art Gallery

Author: Jen Swan

For this month’s spotlight, I had the opportunity to visit two organizations whose focus is inclusivity in the arts to speak with the artists about their projects. The talented artists at Starlight Studio and Art Gallery and the dazzling cast, staff, and writers at Unique Theatre Company are both creating captivating works that you definitely won’t want to miss.

On Delaware Avenue, across from Babeville, there is an unmistakable building nestled between two commercial office buildings. You’ve probably passed by it any number of times; maybe been intrigued by its brightly colored mural facade and large, inviting glass doors and windows. Yes, that’s right, we’re talking about Starlight Studio and Art Gallery and their team of talented artists.

Founded in 2005, Starlight Studio is a “cooperative environment that supports adults with disabilities in their artistic development.” Most recently, the Starlight Artists participated in a collaborative project with Lara Buckley and the Hickory Urban Sanctuary on Pratt Street in Buffalo, where they were inspired by the natural surroundings and wildlife. The project titled, “Magnified Observations: The Art of Wild” was a resounding success and resulted in three public events; two at the Hickory Urban Sanctuary and one at Starlight Studio and Art Gallery.

I got to experience the results of the collaboration first hand during the event hosted at the gallery on October 1st. The gallery space was transformed into a multimedia experience complete with a recreation of the sanctuary space through a tunnel-like fixture (lead image) draped in plant material and papered with the participant’s colorful mural made through the duration of the program. Full length banners decorated by the Starlight artists adorned the windows giving the entire space a magical and secluded feel.

When I arrived at the gallery, I was promptly greeted by Andy Calderon, a Starlight artist and poet who was giving a reading of his poetry later that evening. We chatted while he walked with me to the side gallery where one of his paintings was on display, a watercolor aloe plant in a vibrant purple pot. 

Calderon’s painting (see photo) was not only an ode to this dying plant that he nursed back to health, it was also an exercise in color and movement for the artist. You would never know from looking at his painting that the aloe plant when it was drawn was on the brink of death because the colors chosen by Calderon are exuberant and depict the plant for the life he saw inside of it. If you visit his gallery shop on the Starlight Studio website, you will see that much of his work features plants and animals as well as the tasteful use of repetitive motifs and vibrant colors. 

His book of poetry is also for sale on Starlight’s online store. I can personally attest that Andy is a talented poet. He riffed a few lines from a phrase on a shirt that someone was wearing and his rhymes were slick and delivered with a joie de vivre that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. 

I also had the pleasure of talking to Starlight artist Janet Harrison who had a solo show exhibit on display that evening titled, “Music Inspired.” She recounted her experience at the Hickory Sanctuary and specifically the chickens that they got to interact with at the space! Her show featured a large chalk mural adorned with the names of familiar bands and musical artists. There was also music by those bands being played to accompany the mural and Janet’s other artworks displayed throughout the Blue Sink Cafe area.

According to Starlight’s website, Janet is “enthusiastic about art and enjoys incorporating various designs into her drawings and paintings, including Celtic patterns, stained glass and fantasy illustration.” She has a very distinct style that incorporates portraiture and a flair for nostalgic colors and designs such as bicycles. My favorite work of hers is available for purchase on Starlight’s website and titled “Trees of Mendocino.” This 9-foot long work features pinks, yellows, blues, and purples with a distinctly California vibe and a beautiful blend of textures and shapes through the use of both colored pencil and watercolor.

The next time that you’re driving down Delaware and spot that brightly colored building, I highly recommend stopping inside Starlight Studio and Art Gallery. The people there are warm and friendly and you can browse and purchase artwork that like the artists themselves, will be one-of-a-kind.

Stay tuned for Unique Theatre Company

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