Contact Buzz: Momentum Studio gives artists with disabilities space to create, relax and heal

Momentum Studio artists participate in a Bob Ross style painting workshop. — Kelsey Kleinow/Little Village

Momentum. The impetus gained by a moving object. Kelsey Kleinow does not lead a static life — she lives the life of the art studio she runs: Momentum. Her life and her mission are on the move. She and the community she serves intersect in the creative epicenter of Mainframe Studios in downtown Des Moines.

Her passion and work reflect those of Christina Smith, founder and president/CEO of Community Support Advocates (CSA). (Momentum is a CSA program.) Smith’s vision for Momentum is embraced by all connected through this innovative and impressive program.

Kleinow, as Momentum program coordinator, is the catalytic point person for this studio of creativity and art production. The CSA tagline is “Hope. Resilience. Possibilities.” When these descriptives are applied to an environment of creativity, the results are inspirational.

Momentum’s origins

Smith founded CSA 25 years ago. It provides support for individuals with a wide range of disabilities, including intellectual and other developmental disabilities, brain injury, mental illness and substance abuse problems. Services are provided in Polk, Warren, Story and Jasper County.

Smith recalls an early, memorable interaction with a new client, an artist before his mental health struggles. She encouraged his reconnection to art. He responded, leading to his participation in an art show. This exhibition was the first of many positive successes, and this artist was able to engage with people who saw him as an artist, not someone who was sick. That immersion into an open exchange with patrons and fellow artists engaged him, revived him, she said.

“That fueled his mental health recovery,” Smith shares. “Having others view him in that different light was transformational for him.”

This instigating event led to the artist’s return to school, to work and to a productive path for bettering his mental health. Smith influenced him—and he influenced her. The experience affirmed for Smith that art and creativity could be a catalyst for others. Eighteen years ago, the Momentum seed was planted. It started with that art exhibition, which saw her first artist flourish, and which became an annual event.

When Mainframe Studios opened, Smith instinctively knew that this was the place where Momentum needed to sink its roots.
“I gotta be there,” Smith recalled thinking. “I want Momentum to be within the greater arts community.”

That quantum creative leap forward was in 2017. When Momentum established its studio in Mainframe, the first year saw 500 people connect with the program.

Momentum in the community

CSA’s Momentum program welcomes anyone who identifies with having a disability. Those who come seeking support are accepted. This studio provides its clients the chance to benefit from the transformative power of art.

“We have artists who come in who are freakishly talented,” Kleinow shares. “And, we have artists who come in who have never picked up a paintbrush.”

Those in this range of talent and experience share a common bond: Each understands that art is an expressive outlet and guide for their own journeys.

“We foster that healing and ability to express oneself through art,” Kleinow continues. “That’s what Momentum is about. Binding comfort, stress relief and healing through artwork. It’s really about the creativity process; being able to express yourself, being able to be in a safe space.

“My coworker [Angela Ayala] and I have extensive art backgrounds, so we can help in any way, in any medium. The cool thing about Mainframe is that if they want to try something that we don’t have experience with, we sure can find somebody that does,” referring to the diversity of artists with studios there.

Applying the “it takes a village” adage, Kleinow adds “we have an awesome village (in Mainframe and its artists).”
“The endgame … is not selling their artwork or becoming a famous artist; it’s really just for healing.” Kleinow continues, telling how their clients’ “confidence grows, their social anxiety diminishes, because they’re talking about something they’re so passionate about. That is so neat.”

One of the artist clients on their website’s video says, “No matter what happens outside these doors, never comes in here. It’s like the place that’s safe, you’re free, you can be yourself.” She adds with a confident smile, “And I like it like that.”

Momentum gladly accepts any donated art supplies for their program.

John Busbee works as an independent voice for Iowa’s cultural scene, including producing a weekly KFMG radio show, The Culture Buzz, since 2007. He received the 2014 Iowa Governor’s Award for Collaboration & Partnership in the Arts. This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 002.

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