Jefferson Award Winner, March 2018: Deborah Blackwell

WHITEWATER (WKOW) — Deborah Blackwell’s love of art influenced her to go back to school to get a Bachelor of Fine Art’s degree. 

When she graduated in 2008, she decided to spread that love to people with disabilities.

Deborah started Studio 84, a nonprofit art studio for people with disabilities, 10 years ago.

"Why shouldn’t they have that same opportunity to be able to express that freedom and that creativity?"

The Whitewater studio is a space filled with color and encouragement, where artistic visions come to life.

"They feel like they belong someplace and that’s really important."

"I don’t look at other people and say, ‘Oh I wish I could do that," says student Laurie Narad.

About 400 students of all abilities have learned from Deborah over the years.

"We have quite a few on the autism spectrum, down syndrome, mental illness, we have cognition delays, physical, like cerebral palsy," says Deborah.

"She doesn’t look at your disability, she looks at your ability," says Laurie.

Their work is showcased in a gallery and sold to raise money for the students and the studio.

"We’ve had some just absolutely amazing artists that, I’m just blown away. They’ve never done artwork before, but when they’re given that opportunity and that encouragement , it’s just like, woah!"

It’s a mission the entire community has gotten behind.

"We have a lot of regular buyers who come that love the artwork," says Deborah. "We also do things out in the community, too, so it gets our students and artists out in the community."

For Deborah, it’s her passion, helping students become more independent and carry the skills they learn at her studio, into every day life.

"I see their self esteem blossoming, their skill levels, obviously, the more they work at it, get better. They become more independent. This is a  place where they get to make some choices on their own."

And they build some friendships along the way.

"We’re making art, that’s all that matters."

This year, Studio 84 hits a big milestone, celebrating 10 years with a gala on June 23 from 6-8 p.m. at 121 West Center Street in Whitewater. 

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