Derek Gentile: Community Access to the Arts' annual recital a spectacular event

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GREAT BARRINGTON >> I was at the annual recital hosted by Community Access to the Arts (CATA) several years ago. It's usually held in the early summer and it's sort of a revue with dancing and singing and comedians, among other things.

Anyway, I was standing in the lobby of the theater in which the CATA people performed, waiting to talk to some of them.

I watched as an older woman, probably a grandmother, or aunt or friend, ran up to one of the dancers and hugged her.

"Oh my God!" she exclaimed. "You were so good! You were so good!"

The young woman smiled modestly.

For a long time I didn't understand the unbridled enthusiasm. I do now.

Community Access to the Arts is an organization founded in 1993 by Sandra "Sandy" Newman, a dance therapist. In a nutshell, it connects people with disabilities to a wide range of arts programs in which they participate. There are more than 1,000 programs now.

The results are showcased in the annual recital, as well as an art show. The art show is presently at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.

I can remember talking to Sandy when this whole thing started. She's one of those salt-of-the-earth people who are pretty much without artifice. She spoke of how those with disabilities' lives would be enriched, as well as their families.

I was too busy writing my notes to think about what she said. Besides, in 1993, I was a cynical journalist with a tough outer shell. This stuff was fine, but I sought the hard-hitting issues of the day! To quote a famous songwriter, "I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now."

And I see things in a clearer fashion. The woman was so happy with her granddaughter/niece/friend that day because she didn't expect it. Heck, the first time I saw these CATA folks performing, I didn't expect to see how good they were, either.

But they are good . And people don't expect it. Because, you know, they have disabilities.

The term now is differently-abled, and I'm here to tell you that the term is not some tree-hugging liberal socialist label. It's true in this case.

Some of us think about people with disabilities and they assume it's a universal situation. That they are disabled in every aspect of their lives. But it's not, is it? People with motor issues can still have advantages in other areas, like cognitive skills. And CATA helps these folks bring it all out.

It's a pretty amazing thing to have done. I think Sandy Newman is an amazing person. And her successor, Margaret Keller, and her staff carry on the work admirably.

One of the things for which I'm most grateful in my career is that I was exposed to this organization. If you ever have a fear that the good in the world is evaporating, remember CATA.

So, please, if you get a chance, stop by 227 South St. in Williamstown, at the Clark Art Institute's Lunder Center at Stone Hill, where artwork from CATA's artists is on display until Aug. 14. You will be pleasantly surprised. I promise.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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