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Siblings' Interaction from "Different Sides of the Brain" Leads to Sotheby's Exhibit for Artists with Disabilities

By Sanford Josephson

originally published: 01/22/2019

Siblings' Interaction from "Different Sides of the Brain" Leads to Sotheby's Exhibit for Artists with DisabilitiesGrowing up in Watchung, NJ, it was clear that Brad and Dana Chernock’s interests and aptitudes gravitated toward “different sides of the brain”.  Brad was drawn toward medicine and science; His younger sister Dana’s passion was the arts. Through the years, Dana recalls, “Brad and I often shared articles and events with each other that combined science/technology with the arts.” But even they are surprised at where this collaborative approach has recently taken them. 

Brad is currently a fourth-year medical student at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark. During his third year pediatrics rotation last year, his class spent one day at the Matheny Medical and Educational Center, a special hospital and educational facility in Peapack, NJ, for children and adults with developmental disabilities. It was a one-day experience that included exposure to issues in caring for individuals with complex developmental disabilities. As part of the day’s agenda, the students were given a tour of the Robert Schonhorn Arts Center, home of Matheny’s Arts Access Program, which, through the use of innovative systems and techniques, empowers individuals with disabilities to create fine art. Brad found the experience enlightening and breathtaking.

“I thought the art they produced was incredible,” he says, “and they were treated like professional artists. The method in which the art is created was fascinating to me and has so many complex dimensions that it was truly unique and remarkable.”

The artists  -- most of whom do not have use of their arms and, in many cases, are non-verbal  -- work with professional artists who act as their facilitators. The facilitators are working professionals who have been trained to be the arms of the disabled artists, following their instructions and providing a process for them to create works that are purely their own.

“After seeing how intricate the process of creating the art was,” Brad recalls, “I thought it would be a great opportunity to showcase what they were doing on a bigger stage.” Since Dana works in the Old Masters Paintings Department at Sotheby’s, the prestigious international auction house in New York, Brad had a natural connection to that bigger stage.

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Andrew Edge, Arts Access Visual Arts Coordinator, gave the tour that day and remembers that, “Brad was definitely the most interested and had the most questions. He asked if we displayed the art outside of Matheny, and I remember he did mention that his sister worked at Sotheby’s.” 

“When Brad told me about his tour at Matheny and explained the arts program,” Dana says, “I was immediately interested in learning more and seeing how Sotheby’s might be able to offer a collaboration in some capacity.” She arranged for herself and a colleague, Jennifer Burns, to visit the Arts Access Program last summer, and, she recalls, “I had the chance to view firsthand the inspiring, thoughtful process through which each piece of artwork is made. The fact that art, as a form of self-expression, has been patiently and carefully broken down into each and every possible choice for the artists was incredibly impressive.”

Siblings' Interaction from "Different Sides of the Brain" Leads to Sotheby's Exhibit for Artists with Disabilities

At first, Dana was thinking about an exchange of tours between Sotheby’s and Arts Access. But, after seeing the artwork and discussing it with her colleagues, she says, “We were able to coordinate a three-day exhibition to take place at Sotheby’s. This will include a gallery walk led by Arts Access’ team and a ‘facilitator role-play’ as an employee engagement opportunity to deepen the understanding of the creative process that formed the works on view.”

The Sotheby’s exhibit, entitled The Art of Choice, will be held for three days from February 9-11 2019. It will showcase the work of five Arts Access artists: Chet Cheesman, Ellen Kane, James Lane, Mike Martin, and Cindy Shanks.

Although the Sotheby’s exhibit will display paintings and digital art, the Arts Access Program encompasses several other arts disciplines including choreography, creative writing, and drama.

Dana grew up as a dancer “with movement as expression playing a crucial role in my own life. I was particularly struck by the method through which Heather Williams, Arts Access’ Performing Arts & Outreach Coordinator, explained how the facilitation process translated across mediums into exploring every possible conscious choice for movement and motion.”

Siblings' Interaction from "Different Sides of the Brain" Leads to Sotheby's Exhibit for Artists with DisabilitiesDuring their visit, Dana and Jennifer were shown dance charts on an iPad that is used by facilitators in the choreography program. “The charts,” Williams explains, “are a combination of video and static images that are used in our line of questioning when presenting movement options to our choreographers. I remember Dana being fascinated at the idea of breaking dance down into its simplest form since dance is often viewed as a complicated, multi-layer process.”

Dana and Brad are graduates of Newark Academy, an independent middle and upper school in Livingston, NJ. In October 2018, Dana received NA’s “Woman of Distinction” award. She earned an Arts Merit Scholarship to Bucknell University for dance and graduated in 2012 with a BA in Art History and English. After graduation, Dana started her career at Sotheby’s New York where she has held senior roles in Operations and currently manages high profile collections, projects, and important auctions in the global Old Master Paintings department.

Brad is looking forward to a general surgery residency next year with plans to complete an acute care surgery fellowship in the future. He has a bachelor’s degree in emergency medicine from the University of Pittsburgh and is a graduate of the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences Surgical Physician Assistant program. He is particularly passionate about improving patient safety through teamwork and has given several talks on this topic.

The team at Arts Access, Dana says, “has been so wonderful to work with, informative about the program, and creative in their approaches to the collaboration and opportunities for both sides. By its very nature, ‘art’ as human expression through creativity is and should be accessible to all  -- the Arts Access Program at Matheny fully embraces and embodies this notion through its facilitator program.”

Sotheby’s is located at 1334 York Avenue in New York City. Exhibition hours for The Art of Choice event will be 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, February 9; 2-5 p.m. on Sunday, February 10; and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Monday, February 11. It is free and open to the public.

About Sotheby’s: Sotheby’s has been uniting collectors with world-class works of art since 1744. Sotheby’s became the first international auction house when it expanded from London to New York (1955), the first to conduct sales in Hong Kong (1973), India (1992), and France (2001), and the first international fine art auction house in China (2012). Today, Sotheby’s presents auctions in 10 different salesrooms, including New York, London, Hong Kong and Paris; and Sotheby’s BidNow program allows visitors to view all auctions live online and place bids from anywhere in the world. Sotheby’s offers collectors the resources of Sotheby’s Financial Services, the world’s only full-service art financing company, as well as the collection, artist, estate & foundation advisory services of its subsidiary, Art Agency, Partners. Sotheby’s presents private sale opportunities in more than 70 categories, including S l 2, the gallery arm of Sotheby’s Global Fine Art Division, and three retail businesses: Sotheby’s Wine, Sotheby’s Diamonds, and Sotheby’s Home (formerly Viyet), the online marketplace for interior design. Sotheby’s has a global network of 80 offices in 40 countries and is the oldest company listed on the New York Stock Exchange (BID).

About Matheny: Matheny’s mission is to provide exceptional care and an optimal quality of life for children and adults with special needs and medically complex developmental disabilities. Matheny was founded in 1946 by Walter and Marguerite Matheny, whose son, Chuck, was born with cerebral palsy. Although there were only three students and an operating budget of $3,000 obtained through a GI loan, the Matheny School was the first step in a major commitment to provide assistance to young people with physical disabilities and their families. Today, Matheny is licensed as a special hospital and a special education school. Matheny also trains healthcare professionals, therapists, and educators in how to work effectively with persons who have developmental disabilities. Matheny’s main campus is in Peapack, NJ, and it operates five adult community residences in Somerset and Warren counties. In addition to providing medical care and education, Matheny strives to improve the quality of life for its patients and students, and the Arts Access Program is, perhaps, the best example of how that is achieved.

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