Welcome to Artists in Transition

Joel's post-surgical halo (January, 2008)
Hi. What happens when an illness or accident affects your ability to create/perform art, music, dance, theater, film or any other art form for which you were trained. I didn't put a question mark at the end of that sentence, for it's really a rhetorical question. That's what's happened to me, so with the generous support of an ART Outreach Grant managed by The Philanthropic Initiative in Boston I created Artists in Transition to explore the issues that sometimes partner artistry with infirmity. The goal is not to provide answers, but to assist visual/performing artists like us in asking the right questions.

For me, a series of surgeries to negate the effects of rare spinal tumors (benign, but unkind) resulted in nerve damage in my hands that pretty much left them without feeling or function when my last surgery was completed in late 2007 (and my background's in Visual Arts. Bummer!). That was then, though, and this is now. Extensive physical and occupational therapy and the support of loving family, friends and colleagues have enabled me to function very well and what doesn't function well, works well enough. That's great for everyday activities, and I consider myself blessed (my neurosurgeon calls me the "Poster Boy for Neurosurgery" and gave a paper on my case at a medical conference in Chicago. Believe me, you do not want to have a case curious enough to gain that kind of notoriety), but I cannot yet ( perhaps never) create art with the skill I once did (there are artist friends who claim that I never really did create art with much skill and now at least, I have an excuse).

Fortunately, I did not have to rely on my art-making ability to make a living and this June I retired after nearly thirty years as the Coordinator of the Arts, K-12 for the Danbury, CT school district.

But still, what happens to us as visual and performing artists when our artistry is disrupted by disability. We are in the process of planning an inaugural conference for Spring, 2010 in Danbury, Connecticut, where we'll gather folks from the medical, therapeutic, arts, advocacy and educational fields to explore the issues that affect, frustrate, scare and perhaps may eventually inspire us as we become Artists in Transition.

Please contact me either through this blog/website or at my e-mail address, artistsintransition@yahoo.com. I won't guarantee you answers, but let's have fun (ya gotta have fun) kicking around those questions, and perhaps learn something in the process.

Be well.
Joel Levitt

News Times Article

Grant will fund Danbury Conference for artists with illness or injury

News-Times, The (Danbury, CT)

Date: April 15, 2009
Section: News Local
Article ID: 12148785

Grant will fund Danbury conference for artists with illness or injury
Author: Eileen FitzGerald Staff Writer

DANBURY -- What's it like for an artist who has a new illness or injury that affects his ability to execute the ideas he envisions? That's a question Danbury schools arts coordinator Joel Levitt first faced when he was treated for the benign spinal tumors he developed last year. The surgery to remove them permanently damaged his fine motor skills and shut the door to his retirement goal of returning to the artwork he put aside while a school administrator. It's a question Levitt will pose in a conference he will hold thanks to a $5,000 special grant from the Art Renewal for Teachers award program. "This is for those artists and musicians and dancers and filmmakers who are in-mid career and find their art forms have been challenged by new physical circumstances," Levitt said Tuesday. "It poses the question, where do we go from that place? Where do we go when our art is challenged?" Levitt, who spent 37 years in education, including his last 29 years as an arts administrator for the Danbury public schools, plans to include doctors from Danbury Hospital as well as educators and artists at the conference. He's motivated to pursue this issue because he could not find any organization that deals with people whose injury impacts their ability to do their art form. "Artistry is housed in the brain, but it is totally dependent on fine motor skills, whether for writing, playing music or fine art," he said. "We're actually dependent on our physical ability." Besides Levitt's Special ART Outreach Award, awards were given to eight teachers during a ceremony April 5 at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. Donna Marie Benner, an art teacher at Shelter Rock School in Danbury, received a grant so she can attend an Art New England painting and drawing workshop. The Philanthropic Initiative developed and manages the grant program that provides visual artists who are teachers the opportunity to explore something that has nothing to do with students but will enrich their teaching. It's the 10th year of the program and the first year it was opened beyond Litchfield and Hartford counties to teachers across the state. Teachers were invited to submit proposals, and grants were awarded on a competitive basis, with the maximum grant $5,000. Levitt's proposal was outside the grant's parameters. "He was not eligible for a typical award, but the reviewers thought it was a great idea, since it was addressing an under-served population,'' said Liza Sutherland, program associate for the Philanthropic Initiative. "It's the first-of-its-kind arts program and it's the first time we've done this. We'll see what comes next." Jim Coutre, vice president of the Philanthropic Initiative, said Levitt's idea was the kind of opportunity the grantors thought was important to fund. "It (retirement) will be different than what I predicted. I can still create,'' Levitt said, and through the work for the grant he will begin to renew himself as an artist. "I'm very excited. I hope this leads to an active retirement.'' Those interested in the project should contact Joel Levitt at Levitj@danbury.k12.ct.us. Contact Eileen FitzGerald at eileenf@newstimes.com or at (203) 731-3333.۩