Kelly Gallagher is one of the artists whose work will be shown at the Community Access to the Arts event Thursday at the Clark Art Institute.
Kelly Gallagher is one of the artists whose work will be shown at the Community Access to the Arts event Thursday at the Clark Art Institute. (Courtesy of Ron Gallagher)

WILLIAMSTOWN

Community Access To The Arts is well-known for its continuing efforts to provide artistic and performing opportunities for people with disabilities. After two decades of pursuing this mission from its southern Berkshire County headquarters, the organization is hoping to widen its presence in the north, beginning with an evening of art by CATA artists from 5 to 7 p.m., Thursday, at the Stone Hill Center of the Clark Art Institute.

"If you do an informal poll on the street, just the general community is not as aware of CATA in the northern part of the county as they would be if you stopped someone on the streets in Stockbridge or Lenox," said Liana Toscanini, the organization's development and marketing director.

All exhibited art work will be on sale and the artists will receive a 50 percent commission per sale. An afterparty at Hops and Vines on Water Street will feature celebrity bartenders, including State Senator Benjamin Downing and State Representative Gail Cariddi. Both events are free, with tips from the afterparty donated to CATA's A.R.T. painting program.

CATA began as the effort of dance therapist Sandy Neiman, who ran the organization out of her living room for five years before moving CATA to its own space in 1998.

The hope is that the Clark event will herald a new familiarity of CATA in North County and widen the opportunities for those who could benefit from programs already in place that they might not know about their existence. Currently in North County, CATA holds visual and performing arts workshops through the Brien Center, BFAIR and BHS eldercare, as well as the Williamstown Youth Center and Mass MoCA, and wants that better known.

CATA holds an annual performance in Lenox and an annual art show in Pittsfield, and this event at the Clark is considered a first step to presenting public offerings of the work more frequently in North County.

"We have a lot of fingers in the pot for expansion of North County programs," Toscanini said. "We find that exhibits and performances particularly really shine a light on the talents of people with disabilities and so in terms of sharing what we do with the community, they're wonderful, wonderful ways to acknowledge our artists and to share the work.

The upcoming exhibit at the Clark is helmed by recent board member Ron Gallagher, officially the North County liaison for CATA and also director of the Mass Mission for the Blind in Western Massachusetts. Gallagher says the event at the Clark was originally scheduled last year, but cancelled due to weather. After joining the board, he immediately worked to resechedule and program the event.

Gallagher had curated a similar show five years ago at Images Cinema, which featured some CATA artists. Among the works featured in that show and the current one at the Clark were paintings by Gallagher's son, Kelly. As an artist with disabilities, Kelly Gallagher has worked with CATA's ART program -- Artistic Realization Technologies -- to sometimes help realize his artwork. That is how Gallagher first encountered CATA.

"What impressed me to consider going onto the board was going to a showcase of all of their programs at Mass MoCA last spring," Gallagher said. "It had quite an impact on me. I'm really into progressive civil rights and human rights, and this was an extension of that. They really have a lot of respect for the consumers that they serve and enable them to become involved with both the visual and performance arts in a way that's really dignified."

Kelly will also be participating in the Clark show, which will be the highest profile event the organization has ever had in the Northern Berkshires.

"The Clark is like the top of the mountain so far," said Toscanini. "We have exhibited in the North Adams Public Library and the hospital as well. We had some great partnerships with different community organizations and cultural venues in the northern part of the county, but the Clark for us is a pretty big deal. It's the most comprehensive cultivation that we've ever done, and of course to be in that setting of that Stone House Gallery is wonderful for us."

And, for Gallagher, it's just a start to what he has in store.

"I'd like to swing around from Williamstown. The next show -- an opening might be in North Adams, and then maybe swing down to Adams," he said. "As Northern Berkshire liaison, I want to make sure we connect with all of those."