Carly Stout, Editor
The Ashland Beacon
The Aspire! Conservatory of Fine and Performing Arts in Ashland has now launched a pilot program for special-needs adults to participate in recreational music making and fine arts education.
“We had our first class on Thursday, we are calling it a pilot program simply because we are doing this in April and May just to see if there is a need and interest within the community,” said DeNeil Hartley, the Administrative Director of Aspire! Conservatory.
Hartley said that catering to both children and adults of all ability levels is something that has always been near and dear to her heart. Last Spring, Hartley attempted to launch a special-needs art class for children, however, due to COVID-19 the classes were canceled and refunded.
“It’s been on my mind that this is a population of people we need to serve,” said Hartley.
Hartley said that the idea of the pilot program came to light after she was talking with a friend of hers who is an advocate for special-needs adults. Hartley said that her friend, Tracy Stakely, had been working with a woman and noticed how much she enjoys music.
“She noticed how he really enjoys music and how he reacts differently to different music, she asked me about classes, and we brainstormed and reached out to some people to get this class built,” said Hartley.
Together the two launched the pilot program. Each week participants enjoy a different theme, often connected with a book on a topic related to song or with musical movements.
“We turn that into a music activity and do some music exploration and end with a small art project of some kind,” said Hartley.
Hartley said that the first class was a hit with the participants.
“They really enjoyed it, they laughed and giggled and were so into it,” said Hartley.
The pilot program size is limited, in order to keep it small and intimate, but there are still limited openings available.
The Aspire! Conservatory is hoping to do more within the community for special-needs individuals, including revisiting the art classes that were unable to continue last Spring.
“I’m hoping that no later than Fall we can have a variety of classes offered for people of all abilities, in the art and music groups,” said Hartley. “I also see in the future that this could be turned into one on one adaptive music lessons, and I think that would be a wonderful outlet for people who may be higher functioning.”
Hartley said that she is personally excited for what is being offered now, as well as what is on the horizon. “I’m really personally excited about what we are going to be able to offer in the near future,” said Hartley.
“I just believe art is for everyone,” said Hartley. “This shouldn’t be an underserved population.”