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The Special Children’s Art Foundation fosters hope, self-esteem and community integration by providing children with special needs, their families and mainstream community members in Los Angeles the opportunity to engage in socially inclusive mural art projects. The Special Children’s Art Foundation develops mural projects at any Los Angeles County school with a special education component, thereby bringing opportunities to access the arts directly to where youth with special needs spend a large part of their day. The Special Children’s Art Foundation will work with elementary through high school campuses and strives to include in each project as many youth with special-needs as possible from within the community chosen as the mural site. We encourage all families, teachers and classroom aids to have their children participate regardless of type or severity of disability.

Mural projects are painted on campus both during and after school hours and then installed in schools or other sites chosen by a community. Adult volunteers and older non-special needs students partner with and assist youth with disabilities and other special needs in painting the murals. Our volunteers have worked successfully with youth affected by Rett Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Williams Syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy and Autism, to name a few. By painting together, students with disabilities and their mainstream peers gain a better understanding of one another while contributing to public art that leaves a lasting mark on their school or community.

Our objective in 2008 is to further increase the number and reach of our mural projects by expanding our direct collaboration with local public schools and school districts in Los Angeles County. In addition to single-site mural projects, we are developing mobile mural components that can be painted at various schools within a school district during in class and after-school painting parties, and then assembled at a final location. By taking the art to multiple schools within a community, we are able to involve a far greater number of students with special needs and mainstream students.

The Special Children’s Art Foundation began in 1998 as one man’s effort to contribute colorful and motivational art to his daughter’s therapeutic and educational environment at Valley View Elementary School in North Los Angeles County. This first mural attracted incredible in-kind and volunteer support from community members and more importantly, it allowed both the children with special needs and mainstream children attending the school direct participation in enlivening their daily landscape. Though initially intended as a one-time volunteer project, the absence of creative arts opportunities for children with physical, mental or behavioral disabilities in Los Angeles prompted the incorporation of the Special Children’s Art Foundation as a nonprofit organization in 1999. The need for this program is more pronounced than ever given today’s landscape of art programming cutbacks and the continuing scarcity of cultural enrichment programs that benefit youth with special needs or disabilities. According to 2005-2006 DataQuest statistics, there were nearly 185,000 youth (11% of the total student body) attending public schools in Los Angeles County who were classified as special education students due to a physical, mental or behavioral disorder.

The Special Children’s Art Foundation develops murals designs simple enough to be painted by children of various skill levels and the supervision necessary to achieve the finished look of a professional mural.

We utilize custom-built adaptive easels that bring the mural panels to a level reachable for both children who can stand and those who are wheelchair bound. While some of the children with special needs can hold a brush and paint with minimal assistance, peer tutors and volunteers shadow the more severely disabled with hand-over-hand techniques. We have found this to be the most successful strategy for inclusion as each child with special-needs socially interacts with a peer while producing a piece of art that is bigger than anything they could accomplish alone. With the more severely disabled children, it takes two peer tutors/volunteers to assist - one holding the paint while the other helps with hand-over-hand techniques. For severely autistic youth or those with extreme behavioral issues, we adjust all sensory inputs - keeping surrounding music, conversation and activity to a minimum until a child is adjusted to the environment. Once comfortable, a youth will slowly be introduced to the painting materials – “painting” first with water and then eventually with paints and a volunteer at his side.

The ease or difficulty of integrating students without disabilities into our projects depends on how much experience they have had with youth with special needs in the past. If the students are or have been “peer tutors”, they already recognize and know how to respond to a variety of different handicaps. Those without such experience are prepared in advance – they are told what to expect and how to interact with special needs students. After initial introductions, student pairs are supervised closely until they are settled into the work. Some of the more severely challenged children are content to watch their peer tutors or volunteers paint for them. Mural design also provides a great opportunity to involve students at an early stage. Coordinating with art teachers at local schools, we recruit “at-risk” students – those close to being expelled for fighting or other behavioral issues. Rather than the usual detention or school clean-up duties, we seek the school administrators’ approval to have these students help us design the murals. This collaboration provides them with art education, teamwork skills, and community service while they work off their academic violations.

Marc Kolodziejczk
, Executive Director
Marc earned his BFA in Film and Television from the Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, California. His intrinsic eye for color and ingenuity has allowed him to engage in numerous facets of the Art field. Prior to becoming a freelance designer and colorist in 2001, Marc worked in the Film and Theme Park Industry for over twelve years. As an Art Director at Universal Studios Hollywood, he was responsible for four of the most popular attractions at the Theme Park as well as for the overall look of City Walk. As senior Show Artisan for Walt Disney Imagineering, Marc directed the paint efforts on four major Disneyland attractions. He has served as Executive Director of the Special Children’s Art Foundation since 2004. This position presents a great opportunity for him to further the Foundation’s mission and positively impact the special needs community. Marc is an avid participant in his children’s education and extra curricular activities. He is artist manager for his 18-year-old son’s jazz band and Pure Waterfall Publishing Company. Marc is also an active parent advocate for his 16-year-old special needs daughter, who was born with Rett Syndrome, and through whom came the inspiration to start the Special Children’s Art Foundation.

Bob Hernandez - Bob Hernandez Design
Lauren Volk -
LV Design
Nicole Armitage
- Armitage Arts
Frank Armitage - Illustrator/Painter
Anthony Zierhut
- Storyboard Artist/Illustrator
Kurt Birky
- MediocreMinds Graphic Design


TM & © 2005 Special Children's Art Foundation