A narrow storefront on the town square in Denton is home to a unique art space, which showcases the creations of residents of the Denton State Supported Living Center – formally known as the Denton State School.

“We wanted to provide a wonderful place to showcase the art work of our residents,” says Susan Dean with the Denton State Supported Living Center, “to help them interact with the community.”  Dean joined the center as Director  of Community Relations and and Volunteer Program several years ago and has used her experience in the retail world to help make the Impressions gallery a reality.

Historically, state schools were seen as places to essentially house people who were developmentally disabled.   Some of the longtime residents of the Denton State Supported Living Center (DSSLC)  were brought there by their parents as children in the 1960’s.  A combination of a shift in funding priorities and a greater understanding of development has led to some people who in decades past have been isolated from the community , learning to live in the community.

“All of our residents are able to have jobs, whether on campus of off campus,” says Dean.  “And, they’re paid.”

“We have a lot of individuals who like to learn housekeeping skills,” says DSSLC’s Carlos Olvera, who started managing  Impressions  after spending two decades teaching vocational and life skills on campus. “We developed a program at the center where they are assigned a unit and they get paid for mopping and sweeping and changing the beds.  This helps them progress into housekeeping jobs in the community.”

The Impressions program, he says, allows residents who are artistic in nature to use  the process of learning about and creating ceramics or beading as a way to learn more about working and navigating the responsibilities and nuances of having a job.  They also gain self respect, self confidence and pride, especially when their art work sells.

“Can you imagine how that makes them feel?” says Dean. “People admire what they do.”

Impressions Artist Jori enjoys making these Circle of Friends candle holders.

Impressions Artist Jori enjoys making these Circle of Friends candle holders.

Impressions Artist Vanessa has developed a signature style.

Impressions Artist Vanessa has developed a signature style.

The "Bead Ladies" create these lanyards in Impressions' back work space several afternoons a week.

The “Bead Ladies” create these lanyards in Impressions’ back work space several afternoons a week.

A similar program has been offering the same opportunities to developmentally disabled adults in Richmond, California for 32 years.   The NIAD Art Center was established  by artist Florence Ludins-Katz and her husband Dr. Elias Katz.   Executive Director Deb Dyer says a recent independent survey of the NIAD program has some surprising results.

“The part that kept coming up over and over again as an area where the artists felt they improved was communication,” says Dyer. “When you have a disability, you are many times not comfortable communicating verbally.  The art gives you something to talk about.  It comes down to having a sense of ‘this is who I am.'”

The success of Impressions is part of a trend throughout the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services.  In Brenham, living center  residents create paintings, wooden crosses, wreaths and other crafts which are sold on campus and in the community.    Residents in Corpus Christi, Mexia, San Angelo and Lubbock create wood working projects like picnic tables and planters.

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