The Jerusalem Theater plays host during September and October to "Loud and Clear," the fifth annual art exhibition of Akim-Jerusalem, the organization for people with mental disabilities. Set in a spacious section of the theater building, the display comprises 27 striking paintings by 14 artists, all of whom take part in Akim-Jerusalem's regular art workshops at the residential center on Derech Hebron. The artists are not constrained in their choice of subject matter - instead they are encouraged to "paint what they think, to speak with their inner voice," according to project coordinator Dalia Poran. "Many of our residents cannot read or write, [and the art workshop] gives them a vital outlet to express themselves." The paintings were created mostly using acrylic-based paints, and all are extremely vivid and bold in the use of color and imagery. Shmuel Nahon's interpretations of Indian photographs stand out as particularly deft works, as do the pastel-hued exhibits by Hila Barashi. Nahon, a 63-year-old resident of the Beit Julia hostel, only began painting this year, although his bold and striking works belie the brevity of his career. He is deaf and also mute, which makes art an "even more vital outlet to express himself," says Poran. Barashi's art uses flowers as a central theme, with the stark depictions set against a background of softer blends of color. At Akim-Jerusalem's three centers in Talpiot, the artists themselves were eager to discuss their work. Shlomo Katz, Rachel Cohen and Shlomit Goldrei - all residents at the Beit Julia hostel - have been painting at the workshops for between one and five years. "To be on display feels like a major achievement, and every year I am excited afresh by the opportunity," says Katz, whose paintings covered the meeting room where he sat. He speaks eloquently about his love of art, which evoked a passionate streak in him that may otherwise have remained dormant. According to Poran, the residents all perform menial, "boring" tasks in local factories for much of the week, and as such the chance to channel their creativity into an outlet such as painting is vital. "Our artists await each Friday impatiently - after a week spent doing monotonous work, we often find the residents coming early to class, eager to get started." Aviva Topol, the manager of the Beit Leo hostel, described the success of the art project as "a great miracle which has happened here." "People who I didn't dream could produce such works have suddenly [burst into life]," she says - a sentiment echoed by the artists themselves. "I get very excited [by the chance to paint]" says Cohen, "I am not always able to draw everything that I would like to, but the instructors are always there to help out." After five years of running the workshops, the next stage for Akim-Jerusalem is to try to raise funds for more advanced materials and tools. "At present we can only afford acrylics and paper for the artists, but we hope to use any donations to purchase canvases, oils and so on," says Poran. With regular drama workshops and choir sessions, Akim-Jerusalem also encourages other artistic outlets. The organization intends to put on a Hanukka show in a local theater, but in the meantime the art exhibition remains the only forum for the residents to display their talents to the Jerusalem public. "Last year the artists' works were on display at the Artist's House on Rehov Shmuel Hanagid. The fact that the artists had mental disabilities bore no influence over the committee's decision to exhibit the paintings - they did not know of the painters' backgrounds and just judged the work on artistic merit alone," Poran says, underlining the high standards of the residents' skills. "We feel that the public gets a unique experience with our exhibition," adds Poran. "These paintings are [pure] and from the heart - there is no financial interest behind the work, the artists are not producing pieces in order to make a living." Everyone who attends the art classes has had the opportunity to display their works at the exhibition - there was no minimum standard required, and thus no one's work was turned down due to lack of talent. Shlomit Goldrei, whose tender and sensitive pieces feature prominently at the theater, spoke of her "excitement and pleasure" at seeing her work on display, and asserted confidently that she expected "all of the paintings to be sold by the end of the exhibition." Smiling broadly when questioned, she took great pride at being given the chance to discuss her efforts. Poran drew attention to the Herculean efforts some of the artists have to make to produce their art. There are individuals who have mental retardation, and thus struggle merely to express which colors they require for their work, as well as one young man who is so physically impaired that he has to paint in an almost entirely prostrate position. Katz, when discussing the reasons he loves to paint, maintains that "even if I don't have it in my hands, I have it in my head," adding that this was the best way he could conceive to express the thoughts within. As well as taking pride of place in the temporary gallery, the exhibits are also on sale to the public, with the prices ranging between NIS 450 and NIS 600 and, at the time of writing, over 30 percent of the works have already been bought. Staff at the exhibition estimated that there had been 50 or 60 visitors to the exhibition each day since it opened, and that many of the attendees expressed interest in making purchases. The Jerusalem Theater is one of the sponsors of Akim-Jerusalem's projects, and as a result waived the fee for hiring the exhibition space. A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the works go to the artists themselves, with the remainder used to purchase materials for the art classes.

Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin

Think others should know about this? Please share