Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 30th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Finding Claraty

ae1Local art studio offers space for developmentally disabled to shine

Five years ago, Santa Cruz residents Robin Blake and Andy Pereira were searching for a better way to meet the needs of the developmentally disabled. 

Blake, who is developmentally disabled herself, had always admired her mother’s Capitola craft gallery while growing up, but never had the opportunity to create her own art. While Pereira, who ran an agency that provided services for developmentally disabled clients, including Blake, was looking for a way for them to learn more about their own history.

And so, Pereira decided to open an art studio in a former print shop on Seabright Avenue, along with Blake and eight other clients. Claraty Arts is now a working art studio and collective for 21 developmentally disabled artists.

"It's a fun place," says Blake, whose preferred medium is paint. The artists can sell their work in the gallery and keep 50 percent of the profits.

The studio’s namesake is Nell Claraty, a woman who was born with cerebral palsy in 1918, and was institutionalized from age 9 to 78 at the state-owned facility now known as the Sonoma Developmental Center.

“Sadly, there is nothing exceptional about Nell’s story, except that she got out,” says Pereira, who serves as executive director of Claraty Arts.

After leaving the institution—a rare occurrence at the time—Claraty spent her remaining years in Santa Cruz, living in her own home for the first time in her life. She was known for wearing bright and bold colors and often seen making her way down Pacific Avenue in an electric wheelchair. In 2004, she passed away in Santa Cruz at the age of 85.

Nine Claraty Arts artists recently celebrated her life during a reception at the studio, where they unveiled “Nellie’s Last Act.”  The exhibit, which will remain on display through Oct. 2, allows the public and the participating artists to learn more about the history of the disabled and institutionalization in general, as well as Claraty Arts, a place where artists can hone their craft while learning from instructors and each other.

ae2Claraty Arts unveils its latest exhibit, “Nellie’s Last Act,” a celebration of the life of the studio’s namesake, plus an opportunity to learn about the history of institutionalization and the disabled."We challenge people here,” says Pereira, adding that if an artist creates a lackluster piece of art, it will be critiqued so the artist can try again and feel good about the final result. "We're not going to [falsely] praise you and give you a high five. That's the most dramatic thing [happening] here: to work, to fail, and then bounce back—to take a critique and then, like anyone else, to enjoy succeeding."

Pereira tells the story of a time when a few of the studio’s artists entered an art contest without disclosing their disabled status and two of them received awards. In the next year’s contest, the judges discovered who they were and awarded ribbons to each artist from Claraty Arts who entered—an action Pereira describes as a failure of good intentions, since it left the artists wondering if their art was judged honestly.

How to recognize the developmentally disabled without patronizing them has become a hot topic as they become more integrated into society through a process known as mainstreaming. That assimilation came as a result of the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act, which passed in 1969, and dramatically decreased the number of developmentally disabled people living in state-owned institutions, as nonprofit regional centers and community facilities made it possible for them to live outside of institutions.

Pereira, who has worked with the developmentally disabled for more than 30 years, has been a longtime advocate of mainstreaming. But, around the time he opened Claraty Arts, he came to the realization that mainstreaming also has a flaw.

"There was an unintended byproduct of mainstreaming, which was that as a disabled person you were encouraged to be seen as 'normal' and downplay or hide your disability," explains Adam LaVoy, Claraty Arts studio manager. "That can be mutually exclusive with the idea of celebrating your disability—learning about it, talking about it, and bonding over your shared experiences with other people with disabilities."

That epiphany motivated Pereira to change his approach, and operate his art studio in a way that would allow the artists to learn about themselves as well as the history of those who came before them.

“Claraty Arts takes its name from Nell,” says Pereira, “to remind us of the example she set, that it is never too late to defy a past that imprisons, and to reject and reconstruct old imposed identities that define any person as unwanted, unneeded, or unknown.” 

The artwork from “Nellie’s Last Act” is currently on display through Oct. 2 at Claraty Arts, 1725 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz. Visit for more information.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Santa Cruz Gives

A look at the organizations we’re asking you to support in our new holiday giving campaign


Gratitude—For Each New Morning With its Light

The full moon of Wednesday brings light to Thanksgiving (Thursday) under the Sagittarius Sun and Mercury. Mercury in Sag offers humanity the message (Mercury) of thankfulness and joy (Jupiter). No other sign represents food, music and joy better than Sagittarius (only Pisces, when not in despair). Beginning on Thanksgiving, we can list what we’re grateful for. Then we can continue the list, creating a daily Gratitude Journal. What we are grateful for always increases in our lives. On Thanksgiving Saturn/Neptune square (challenging) is in full effect. This can manifest as traditions not being honored, disappearing, falling away. It can also create a sense of sadness, confusion, of things not working out as planned. It’s best to be as simple as possible. And to focus on gratitude instead. Gratitude is a service to others. It is scientifically and occultly a releasing agent. Releasing us from the past, allowing our future—the new culture and civilization, the new Aquarian laws and principles, the rising light of Aquarius, the Age of Friendship and Equality—to come forth. Gratitude and goodwill create the “thought-form of solution for humanity and the world’s problems.” The hierarchy lays great emphasis upon expressing gratitude. Gratitude illuminates all that is in darkness. Let us be grateful during this season together. Being, for others, the light that illuminates the darkness. A Poem by R.W. Emerson: We are grateful … “For each new morning with its light/For rest and shelter of the night/For health and food/For love and friends/For everything thy goodness sends.” (poem by R.W. Emerson). I am grateful for my family of readers.


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Pluck of the Irish

Mid-century immigrant tale engagingly told in ‘Brooklyn’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


Second Street Café

Pies and tarts for all tastes—from traditional to adventurous


How are you preparing for El Niño?

Getting ready to buy some rain gear. Cory Pickering, Santa Cruz, Teaching Assistant


Fortino Winery

Cabernet and superb fruit wine from Fortino Winery


Tap Dance

West End Tap & Kitchen’s impressive menu to expand to Eastside location