Art gallery presents opportunities for special needs artists



Jerry Galvas (left) displays his framed drawing alongside Vista Center Director Patrick Beal (right). Photo by Ben Gagnon

Jerry Galvas (left) displays his framed drawing alongside Vista Center Director Patrick Beal (right). Photo by Ben Gagnon

FLINT TWP. — For over 30 years, the Vista Center has introduced special needs adults to the world of art and its therapeutic benefits.

Now, the Flint area-based non-profit has an art gallery to display artwork created by people with physical and/or mental disabilities.

The Vista Visions Art Gallery, which opened to the public in April, is located inside the Genesee Valley Center in Flint Township next to JC Penney. Shoppers who enter the gallery can see a diverse collection of paintings and drawings and even purchase art designed by individuals who participate in the Vista Visions art program.

In addition to exhibiting art, the Vista Center serves as a social hub for clients and provides exercise, dance and instructional classes for program participants.

Patrick Beal, Director of the Vista Center, said that the art program gives clients an outlet for self-expression and a platform to share their skills with the community.

Matt Nelson, a Vista Center client and staff aide, shows off one of his paintings that’s displayed at the Vista Visions Art Gallery. Photo by Ben Gagnon

Matt Nelson, a Vista Center client and staff aide, shows off one of his paintings that’s displayed at the Vista Visions Art Gallery. Photo by Ben Gagnon

“We recognize that people feel better doing art,” he said. “There’s that sense of pride if they see it exhibited. And if someone buys their artwork, they feel even more of a sense of accomplishment.”

Matt Nelson, a Vista Center client and staff aide who enjoys creating abstract paintings, said that exhibiting his art in public has been a rewarding experience.

“It draws up my interest when I’m looking at someone’s art or my own,” he said. “It touches your mind and soul.”

Clients who are interested in creating artwork in the Vista Center program are guided by gallery coordinator Greg Zafiroff, a college trained visual artist with 30 years of experience working with watercolors, oils and acrylics. In addition to giving art instruction, Zafiroff makes appointments with handicapped artists who want to display their art at the gallery and walks them through the exhibiting process.

“It’s a real good thing to help people socialize and make cognitive connections,” he said. “And it puts quality artwork out there for the public to see.”

Looking ahead, Zafiroff and Beal are planning to include painting classes for clients in the back of the gallery. The Vista Center is also applying for a grant to help fund art and dance workshops for disabled adults, with the goal of producing a special art exhibition and a dance performance event filmed for social media.

Previously located in downtown Flint, the Vista Center began 36 years ago as a drop-in shelter for homeless people and residents with disabilities. The center now primarily focuses on day program participants with intellectual or physical handicaps and receives most of its clients from providers affiliated with Genesee Health System.

To learn more about the history of the Vista Center or to donate to the center, visit thevistacenter.org. Inquiries about the gallery can be made at 810-766-7085. The gallery is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. or by appointment for a private walk-through.