I want to tell you a story…It all began with the concern, compassion and ingenuity of an artist. Jeff Nachtigall is a multidisciplinary artist, curator, speaker, and social entrepreneur. His work has been exhibited throughout North America, Europe and China, and is represented in numerous public and private collections. He is the co-founder of Make Work Projects, a 2000-square foot storefront studio and sometimes art project space, located in the Riversdale district in downtown Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He has been seen on television and has also done at least one TED talk. If you are not familiar with TED talks they are a series of talks available on YouTube which feature the great thinkers of our time.
Working as a full-time artist-in-residence at an assisted living facility for eight years, Nachtigall developed the Open Studio, a model that he has successfully replicated throughout Canada and the United States. This inclusive, non-hierarchical, client-centered strategy challenges traditional clinical approaches and pushes the boundaries of the arts in health care.
Nachtigall is the inventor of the Mobile Painting Device (MPD), an adaptive technology that transforms the wheelchair into a giant paintbrush, giving people living with neurological disabilities opportunity to express themselves on a very large scale. With delicate and precise movements of the wheelchair’s “joystick,” the artist applies calligraphic lines of paint. This is not an accidental process, a virtual substitute, or a computer-generated facsimile—the artist is in control in real time on a real canvas with real results.
On Monday and Tuesday, June 1-2, 2015, Nachtigall brought his expertise and his MPD to Jamestown through The Arts Center’s Art for Life Program. This is the first time the MPD has been used in North Dakota. Combining another unique “first” was the inclusion of a traditional dancer in the process. The sounds and dance of Margreat Sam (a Bharatanatyam dancer originally from India, now living in Moorhead MN) gave colorful inspiration and encouragement to the artists’ work while her movement and music both entertained and engaged the audience.
Residents of Ave Maria Village/Heritage Centre plus a few community members joined to create a 12 x 15 foot painted canvas. Those having mobile wheelchairs used the MPD to create meandering designs of intersecting lines, others used walkers and improvised painting devices (rags tied to canes, broomsticks and roller extension poles, feet and hands) to make marks and apply color. By the end of Day 1 we had a solid underpainting, so much paint was applied that many of the marks became obliterated. Nachtigall wasn’t concerned, mentioning the first day is always “crazy” with all painters getting accustomed to the process.
Onlookers were soon drafted as helpers (to scrub paint from MPD equipment and wheelchair “wheels”) and included Arts Center staff, past and present, staff from the care center, both past and present directors of the North Dakota Council on the Arts, Jan Webb and Beth Klingenstein, and Troyd Geist, North Dakota State Folklorist who spearheaded the program with Nachtigall. All recognized the significance of project and wanted to see “history” occur.
On Day 2 three MPD-equiped artists, Mary Smith, Beth Neutzman and Martin Suko applied contrasting lines to the base painting. Nachtigall encouraged their movements to be much slower and deliberate creating strong lines of pure color which popped off the background. All in attendance felt the painting needed a final exclamation point so dancer Margreat Sam applied punctuation marks of fire-engine red paint using her feet, hands and dance steps.
This project is being repeated at 3 other facilities in North Dakota; Ellendale’s Prince of Peace Care Center/Evergreen Place Assisted Living, Enderlin’s Maryhill Manor and Wahpeton’s Siena Court. Once all the identically sized paintings are complete they will be mounted for exhibition, travel and will ultimately return to be displayed in each facility.
This project, along with the paired local arts agency and care facility, was supported by the North Dakota Council on the Arts (NDCA) and is part of the ongoing Art for Life program. The project was developed by Jeff Nachtigall, Open Studio Projects, and Troyd Geist, NDCA.
Information about Jeff Nachtigall’s career was taken from his biography on the Center for Creative Aging Website.
The Culture Builds Community blog is submitted (almost) weekly by The Arts Center Gallery Manager Sally Jeppson. Jeppson is also the Arts Center’s Art for Life Coordinator. She would love to hear your comments here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.