Douglas Park fieldhouse’s main hall was abuzz with activity on Oct. 19 as the second annual Art for All Ages exhibit got underway.

The event showcased the artwork made by children and adults with intellectual disabilities. For the past five years, residents who took part in the park’s special recreation program have been able to take art classes. According to the park district staff, the art exhibit gives them a chance to feel like artists and share their work with their families and the community. 

Douglas Park Cultural and Recreation Center currently offers two art classes: a Trash to Treasure class for kids ages six and up, and a printmaking workshop for youth ages 13-20.

Victor Velez, who teaches art classes at the center and at Austin Town Hall fieldhouse, said that he was open to doing more art classes, but that there isn’t a lot of demand.

“I offer classes for all ages in the evening, but I don’t get many students,” he said, adding that he blamed it on the violence in the neighborhood and the fact that the fieldhouse is located in the middle of the north half of the park, away from the major streets that surround it.

The Chicago Park District’s Special Recreation program runs programs and activities for kids and adults with various physical and mental disabilities. In Douglas Park in particular, the program focuses on serving individuals ages 8-40 who have intellectual disabilities. 

Volanda Smith, who heads the park’s special recreation programs, said that around five years ago, she saw some art from Velez’s class in the fieldhouse hallway. This gave her an idea.

“I asked [Velez] if it was something we’d be able to implement with Special Recreation,” she said. “And he was open to all of it.”

The response from the program participants has been overwhelmingly positive, Smith said. 

“They love going to art classes,” Smith said. “We do a lot of sports, so I feel they like to change it up.”

The fact that they get to do different types of art helps, too. 

“Sometimes, they work with paint, sometimes they make a sculpture, sometimes, they work with crayons,” Smith said. “So I think they’re enjoying experiencing different types of art.” 

Velez first did an exhibition of the participants’ work last October. The first exhibit went well, Velez said, and it became an annual event. He said that he’s been impressed with the quality of participants’ work.

“The season starts in September, so only have a month to work with them, so I’m always nervous, but I’m always pleased with the results,” Velez said. 

Smith said that taking part in the exhibit has been great for the participants.

“When they come here, they’re not just Special Recreation participants,” she said. “They become artists. I think it makes them feel important and special.”

This year, the participants did four different paintings of the world outside their window, of a tea kettle, of changing seasons and of a guitar. They were given broad leeway to interpret each assignment. 

Participant Shawn Winston wound up painting his guitar with the colors of the rainbow, a piece that he said he was particularly proud of.

Winston said that the class was “fun” and that it felt “pretty good” to see his work displayed.

According to the Chicago Park District website, the fall arts and crafts special recreation class is currently full. As of this writing, the schedule for winter and spring art classes hasn’t been finalized. 

For more information about this and other programs at Douglas Park, visit


Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...