Pictured Above: A Studio Route 29 cast gathers on stage for a theatrical performance. Photo Credit: Contributed.

The Progressive Art Movement at Studio Route 29

By: Amy Masgay

October 19, 2023.  Updated October 24, 2023.

Our region is not short on opportunities to engage in the arts. We’re fortunate to be able to find fine art studios, music schools, dance studios, and theatres that bring creatives of all kinds together across the Delaware River communities of Pennsylvania and New Jersey to enjoy artists’ work in countless forms.

Studio Route 29, one of the newer additions to the local art scene, encompasses many of those mediums all in one place. A progressive art studio, Studio Route 29 is a haven for artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities and provides them the physical and emotional space to pursue their own artistic endeavors.

With all three three co-founders, Kathleen Henderson, Hop Peternell and Lydia Glenn-Murray originally being transplants from the Bay Area, their West Coast origins is also the place where Henderson refers to as the “birthplace of the progressive art movement.” Henderson also serves as nonprofit studio’s Executive Director, surely bringing her a passion for creating community through progressive studio spaces.

“Every community should have a progressive studio,” Henderson said.

Pictured Above: Artists collaborate and take on art projects together at a communal studio table at the Frenchtown, NJ nonprofit.  Photo Credit: Contributed.

Contrary to popular belief, the terminology and practice of “progressive art” is not interchangeable with the terminology and practice of “art therapy.” Art therapy requires evidence-based clinical practice for the purpose of applying creativity and personal expression in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. “Art therapy” is an often overused phrase attributed to any form of artistic creation that has a therapeutic effect, which can arguably be used to describe any artistic creation at all.

Progressive art studios, on the other hand, are not overseen by clinicians, and therapeutic benefits are not the goal, although they may be a pleasant side effect. The model of the progressive art studio has its roots in the day habilitation program model, which offers training in various life and occupational skills so people can be better prepared to live and work independently.

The progressive art studio utilizes this general model in a creative environment, so artists can feel comfortable navigating the studio space independently to create whatever they feel compelled to produce and to know their work is valuable.

Although progressive art studios have proven to be an outstanding supportive service, most can currently only be found in urban settings. When Studio Route 29 was looking for space in Frenchtown, New Jersey, it made sense to partner with ArtYard, an interdisciplinary alternative contemporary art center. They were moving out of their studio space on Trenton Avenue as Studio Route 29 was moving in, and they continue to operate as sister organizations and even exhibit together.

Pictured Above: The exterior of Studio Route 29’s Frenchtown home, followed by a peek inside the busy Studio Route 29 main creative space. Photo Credit: Contributed.

Studio Route 29’s space is bursting with what seems like every kind of tool or material needed to produce art. Everything in the space is meant to be utilized, played and experimented with, to become messy so it can become beautiful or interesting or fun. To be there is to know that this place exists purely as an outlet for creativity, of any and all kinds, including painting, drawing, sculpting, textiles, weaving, installation, music, audio and video performance, and puppetry.

The puppetry I was able to witness firsthand, when Mick McDonough, an artist at the studio, brought out Bruno and Kirby the Cuddly Bear, two puppets he designed and built himself. McDunna performed a show for me, again of his own creation and starring his original characters, so I could better understand the variety of work being done at Studio Route 29.

I also met Sean Bodine, a cartoonist and the creator of the C.A.T. (Chris’ Amazing Tale) comic and Daytona, which features his take on various NASCAR driver logos and numbers.

In addition to the creating and performing spaces of Studio Route 29, there is a gallery and shop, where artists can exhibit and sell their work. That’s one method of how the studio earns money, in addition to government funds and family foundations that provide grants for such initiatives, as well as a designated support coordinator from Disability Determination Services (DDS).

Pictured Above: Studio Route 29’s artist, Michael Mangino was surrounded by support and enthusiasm while having his work featured in an exhibit exclusively at ArtYard last March . Photo Credit: Contributed.

Studio Route 29 is actively looking to diversify their income streams, however, and is hoping to engage in more partnerships with local organizations, designing logos and other artwork that can be used for their business purposes.

That’s one thing Henderson and Studio Director Lydia Glenn-Murray emphasized during my visit to their space, that since their arrival they have been shown a level of generosity that feels almost exclusive to small towns, a warm welcome that has even resulted in in-kind donations from individuals and other organizations across the community.

It is their hope to continue to grow in this embrace of community, as artists and as fellow neighbors. Studio Route 29 exists to nurture creativity, not to diagnose or even to instruct. This unique feature sets Studio Route 29 apart from other day programs, where artists are often not allowed the autonomy to select their own art medium on any given day, where the commitment of long-term projects would be out of reach due to the program confines. At Studio Route 29, the confines are only the artists’ imagination.

The overwhelming conclusion I was left with as my visit to Studio Route 29 came to a close was that when we alleviate our self-imposed limited thinking, art can be anything.

“Everybody is an artist,” Henderson confirmed to me.

Upcoming Events at Studio Route 29

-October 28 4-6pm: Opening celebration here at Beauty Gallery for Christian Turner and Rich Auth in “Utopia” with performance by BJ Armour at 5:30pm leading us all over to ArtYard to continue the party

-October 28 6-8pm: Opening celebration at ArtYard for BJ Armour and Ricky Bearghost in “You Come to Life”

-November 4: Opening celebration for Michael Mangino at Luminary Coffee, Lambertville

-November 9: Films for Friends 11: Guardian Angel

-November 21:  Thanksgiving Farmer’s Market

-December 9 & 16: Holiday Shop

-December 14: Films for Friends 12

Studio Route 29’s calendar of events includes artist talks, performances, and exhibitions, about 4-5 a year. To learn more about their programming, please visit https://www.studioroute29.org/.

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