ArtReach: Art Outside the Gallery Walls

By Larla Morales

Special thanks to Ruth Jackson for providing photos, stories and information concerning ArtReach 


The belief in art’s profound ability to soothe the mind and spirit and transcend barriers has been a cornerstone of The Center for Contemporary Art's organization since our foundation. Our aim to serve the community through the healing power of art coalesced in the formation of our ArtReach outreach programs in 1996. Throughout the years, many familiar local artists have contributed their time, skill and love to these meaningful programs that seek to serve a variety of groups and audiences within our community. Our programs have enriched the lives of refugee children, veterans, assisted living community residents, incarcerated youth and adults, those facing mental and physical challenges, students and countless individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Through the various branches of our ArtReach Programs (ArtHeals, ArtCamps, and Educational Classes) our programs are tailored to meet the needs of each of our participants. Currently, our program works in partnership with Mental Health America, Alliance Women and Children’s After School Care Program, The Taylor County Learning Center, The Noah Project, The Taylor County Juvenile Justice Center, Disability Resources, Inc. and Adaptive Recreation. Throughout the year, we work with organizations like the Abilene Zoo, The Grace Museum and The NCCIL as well as local schools and universities to offer educational art experiences to students. The Center also offers annual ArtCamps throughout the summer and a free drawing class, “Dirty Drawers”, throughout the school year.


Pictured: (1) Clint Hamilton with ArtReach Volunteers and Participants from Disability Resources Inc. (DRI), (2) Ruth Jackson with ArtReach Participant at DRI, (3) Manny DeLosSantos Leading out Virtual ArtCamp, (4) ArtCamp Campers, (5) Dirty Drawers Drawing Class, (6) DRI ArtReach Participants, (7) Abilene Reporter News (ARN) Article “Programs Budding Artists Show Work” by Janet Van Fleet, (8) Bird Thomas Facilitates ArtReach Activities, (9) ArtReach at The Noah Project, (10) DRI ArtReach Activities, (11) ArtReach at Wisteria Place, (12) ARN Article “Armed with pencils, students Draw!” by Charles G. Anderson Sr. 


Our programs are taught by trained art instructors and provide space for each participant to explore their own agency as  creators in a constructive environment. The CCA’s Educational Director, Manny De Los Santos, explained that the goal of every ArtReach program is to “empower individuals” by allowing them to tap into their own creative abilities. Art encourages a subtle shift of perspective that can be life changing and allows for a deepened sense of self and new avenues of communication to develop in each participant’s life. Darla Harmon, who served as the Executive Director for The Center for Contemporary Art until her retirement in 2018, wrote “...ArtReach programs and classes are to give participants the opportunity to: improve critical thinking, spatial/temporal reasoning and social skills, develop positive self-concepts and nourish a life-long love of art.” These objectives were realized in the life of so many participants in our programs. Ruth Jackson is one of the original ArtHeals facilitators, her efforts have impacted the life of  many individuals throughout her 40+ year of service at The Center. Kevin Arguello is one of those whose life has been shaped by his experience within our programs. 

Video: Artist members at The Center use art to transform lives. Ruth Jackson was among the first artist members to offer art outreach at the Taylor County Jail to inspire people like Kevin Arguello.



Pictured: (1) ArtReach participants at Taylor County Jail create mural, (2) Ruth Jackson Assists participants painting a mural, (3) Participant puts finishing touches on mural, (4) Ruth Jackson and participants create murals on cinder block wall, (5) Participants plan new art projects, (6-7) ARN article “Therapy in Art” by Daralyn Schoenewald and Celinda Emison, (8) Artwork created by Taylor County Jail ArtReach Program Participant, (9) Letter from Sheriff’s Office Discussing the positive impact of ArtReach, (10) Taylor County Jail ArtReach Participants’ Art Display


The Center’s ArtReach programs create a bridge from our galleries into our community that is unique to our organization. The art instructors offer a variety of skills and life experiences that enrich our programs and allow for a compelling exchange of ideas and inspiration between facilitators and ArtReach participants. Our programs seek to cultivate a lifelong relationship with art and the act of creation within each of our participants and encourage them to utilize art as a tool to empower, inspire and connect each of us as members of our community at large. 


Special thanks to Liz Bogard for her contribution of pertinent articles concerning the history of The Center for Contemporary Arts.

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Supported in part by:

Abilene Cultural Affairs Council

Dian Graves Owen Foundation

Dodge Jones Foundation

Robison Excelsior Foundation

Greathouse Foundation

Texas Commission on the Arts

Community Foundation of Abilene

United Way of Abilene

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