Arts and Mental Health Developmental Disabilites Exhibitions Social Inclusion

The studio vibrantly marketing the work of artists with learning difficulties: LAND, Brooklyn

LAND Studio and Gallery is a non-profit day habilitation program that teaches life skills to adults with developmental disabilities, using creative practices to produce and sell artwork in high profile locations. I visited LAND (League Artists Natural Design) twice during my Fellowship for first-hand experience of how the arts can promote wellbeing.

“At LAND, artists develop their skills in a nurturing environment, while their work is marketed to the community in a vibrant and inclusive manner” says Matthew Murphy, who in 2003 was asked to name and co-found Brooklyn’s first art based Day Habilitation Studio and gallery. “Every day our door is open we are meeting our mission” he said.

Today, 15 artists work at LAND daily, to produce, show, and sell their work to galleries and high-profile collectors. LAND is one of the many programs under the LEAGUE Education and Treatment Center umbrella. I was directed there by Clive Parkinson, Director of Arts for Health at MMU, who met Matthew at The DADDA Conference in Australia in 2012. Matthew shared with me the non-profit model, how the artists benefit, and introduced me to the artists at LAND.

Michael Pellew: Rock n Roll Heaven


Michael Pellew uses pencils and colour to document musicians in his “rock n roll heaven,” creating a spirited cultural artefact full of fascinating takes on music and artists. Michael shared his work knowledgeably and independently, his interests recognised and made use of, providing purpose and achievement, alongside Michael’s obvious joy when producing his work.

Raquel Albarran: Toe Cups


Raquel Albarran models ceramics, producing pieces that celebrate the human form and defy categorisation or definite functionality. Raquel makes Toe Cups and variations such as large bowls, which the artist herself called “Gross and cute at the same time.”

Raquel’s work is unique and imaginative, playful, and surreal. Again, I recognise the aspiration here at LAND to make services fit the individual, exploring their skills and individuality, rather than fitting the person into the service.

Kenya Hanley: Tasty Reggae

Tasy ReggaeKenya Hanley enjoyed a book launch at publishers Printed Matter in Chelsea, Manhattan, the following Saturday. There I witnessed how Kenya and his friends and family benefit from his meaningful and productive occupation.

This book is an excellent example of the collaboration and relationship building LAND has embraced from its inception.

Tasty Reggae came about when Yuki Matsuo of All You Can Eat Press fell in love with Kenya’s drawings at the Outsider Fair in 2017. She proposed a book project that would showcase the delicious works of Kenya in book form. Working closely with Sophia Cosmadopoulos, Gallery Manager, and Matthew, they secured locations for the book launch and commercial venues for the book to be sold, including The Whitney Museum of American Art shop, Printed Matter and The New Museum.

As is common in Churchill Travelling Fellowships, one thing leads to another and at Kenya’s book launch I met Alex Mandl, who is the Head of Operations for the New York State Home-based Living team, and responsible for solving some very complex and delicate issues facing healthcare services. Alex posed a very pertinent question: “Once people have health difficulties, or anxieties, or are homebound, how do we recharge them?” His answer was partly but strongly: via the arts.

50,000 Instagrammers Follow LAND

The role of arts as a vehicle towards improving life skills, a tool for communication, and as a means of meaningful occupation is bright and clear here. Matthew’s enthusiasm and dedication at the helm is an important source of LAND’s success and he emphasised the importance of an effective and dedicated team that takes turns leading projects and providing contacts for the LAND mission to be broadened.

Apparent here is the potential of people who might have developmental disabilities preventing their participation in more standardised workplaces, but who may have fertile imaginations and talents that affords them such capacity for creative expression. Moreover, the exhibitions and sale of artworks made by people with disabilities has an impact on how people with disabilities are perceived and related to in society.

With regards to mental health, or illnesses such as dementia, research shows that viewing related art can challenge stereotypes and address stigma. Approaches like these not only benefit the artists, but are valuable tools towards understanding, social inclusion and community well-being.

Follow LAND on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

I'm a British clinical psychologist with a research background. I manage the Greater Manchester i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health Programme, part of the national transformation of children's services. I also have an NHS clinical role in Lancaster and Morecambe working with children, young people and families (CAMHS). I began this blog in 2017 to record a WCMT Travelling Fellowship, from a research role at Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University. I began clinical psychology training (DCLinPsy, Lancaster) in 2010, and studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to my own experiences of creatively managing extremes of mood in adolescence and throughout my 20s. I have worked in several university psychology research departments including Manchester University in suicide prevention, the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University (notable for service user expertise), and on the Dementia & Imagination research programme.

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