Tag Archives: Artists

A Fond Look Back on Soul Center Mini (Part 3 of a series)

This post is part 3 of a series about Friendship Circle’s efforts to create a new faciltiy to encourage the creativity and enhance the vocational skills. Read:
The History of Farber Soul Center’s Creation and Inspiration
Farber Soul Center Construction Update

As we wrap up our time with Soul Center Mini (the temporary satellite facility used by Friendship Circle to host programs for artists while construction took place on the Farber Soul Center), we’ve been looking back on the success of Soul Center Mini and its programs before getting started with our new facility.

To be clear, Soul Center Mini was not the beginning of the Soul Center mission, it was the pre-beginning to what will become a flagship facility for individuals with special needs to express themselves creatively.

Now that we’ve seen what these artists are capable of when piloting these programs, we can only imagine what continued excitement and success we will see from the enhanced facility and programming that will be offered at the Farber Soul Center.


Because we couldn’t wait for the Farber Soul Center to be completed before getting started with programs, Soul Center Mini is where the art programs were piloted and expanded to meet the needs of the artists and also allowed a tremendous learning experience for what would be offered at the Farber Soul Center and how the studio would function when completed.

An Instructor’s View


Soul Center Art Director Brian Kavanaugh on Soul Center Mini programs:

“What I’m most excited about (coming from a contemporary art point of view) is the experimental and unorthodox ways that art can be displayed works really well for the studio in terms of the flexibility we have for the artists here. This gives us the opportunities to create unique supports and ways for art to be displayed for the artists and create a supportive studio environment for the many tasks involved with running a studio and how all the elements feed into each other in this self-generating environment we have.”

Two Greatest Strengths of Soul Center Mini

  1. Flexibility in terms of being able to acclimate to the wants and needs of any individual as they come in, be it sensory or socially based, challenges with fine motor skills, we have a myriad of ways to understand these challenges and learn how to assess them
  2. Self-generative (not superfluous or offering busy work) it’s important that we function successfully for the artists that like to paint or sculpt (people that can appreciate that abstract way of thinking in front of a blank canvas) as well as people that can appreciate more concrete tasks with expectations at the end so that they can know what success looks like before starting a project.

Tools Artists Can Actually Use

Facilitating artists share their expertise with the many tools used at Soul Center Mini and can communicate with the artists on what they’ve been working on. This allows the instructors to be as sensitive and responsive as possible to the wants and needs of each artist by putting mechanisms in place to help with all the essential elements we try to impart on the artists.

These elements include: accountability for projects, learning to appreciate the value (monetary or spiritually) of their work and positive reinforcement of their creative expression.



There are not enough words to describe the Soul Center Mini volunteers, but a few would be: supportive, skillful and dependable, scaled and enthusiastic.

The volunteers have also been extremely open to Friendship Circle’s way of running the studio and very upfront with their own ideas, creating a fantastic environment that could not exist without them.

Above & Beyond


Lori is a fantastic volunteer and instructor for the laser cutter that is always going above and beyond; she has an extensive history and knowledge about the equipment. From the start, Lori was incredibly generous and enthusiastic and it was clear from the get-go she would be valuable to the organization and has continued to do so in her work with the Soul Center Mini. Each person needs their own personalized introduction to the laser cutter and Lori is able to respond to each inquiry in a quick and adaptive way.

The Laser Cutter

The laser cutter is an industrial piece of equipment that cuts or etches designs onto materials in a physical form and is an impressive piece of equipment that is substantial and can also be intimidating for first-time users. However, it’s a great machine that lots of artists have taken to quite tremendously.

The laser cutter is an extremely versatile piece of equipment that can incorporate art pieces and translate them to other materials in a way that’s extremely exciting for artists and gives them a great sense of pride.

When we branch out into the custom order component of making high-quality, personalized products, it’s extremely commercially viable and takes the outcome of what we do at Soul Center to a whole new level.

Bringing Drawings to Life

photo 3

Stephanie likes to create representations of people. We translated some of her line drawings to the laser cutter and other artists cut out the shapes that composed her characters and glued them together to create a three-dimensional personification of her two-dimensional drawings. This gave Stephanie the opportunity to see both the front and rear representations of her drawings and see them more formally by taking someone’s interests and using our tools to turn it into an educational opportunity for Stephanie.

More Than Just a Chessboard

chess pieces

David plays chess himself, and he wanted to make something that he could appreciate and call his own while also creating something he could relate to. He took to this project, with Lori’s enthusiastic help, and not only made the chessboard, but the pieces as well and has continued to make custom-order personalized chess sets. It started as something he wanted to make for his own sake, but now it has become something that relates to other people and David can now have a dialogue with customers by taking orders, discussing the set and desires and collaborates with patrons where larger conversations and relationships can happen.


When an artist is using a loom, they are able to understand that there is an outcome and a goal in mind when starting a project. Because of this understanding, there’s a lot more pride and satisfaction that is achieved through the process.

Loom-related projects are not in the abstract; artists can see the progression right in front of them and understand it as a tangible item while appreciating that it has a potentially direct relationship with someone in the outside community.

Soul Center Mini has looms of varying sizes; from tabletop to rug looms situated on the floor (up to 50” wide) which have been great for a lot of people learning to make scarves, pillows and rugs.

Untapped Resources

loom 1

Akiva wasn’t too sure when he first came to Soul Center Mini about how to integrate himself into the studio, but he has interests in mind for things that he is a personal fan of. He may not have had the idea beforehand of what he would create, but once the tools were in his hands and he was in a space to mold his interests, his first production was a 13-foot scarf in the style of a Dr. Who-tardis, which incorporated his personal passions with his creative expression. When Akiva finished the scarf and pulled it off the loom, he beamed with pride and was so excited to not only create his first product, but also to learn a new skill by using the loom.

Products Available at Soul Center Mini

Soul Center Mini products

  1. Chess boards – Can be ordered and customized/personalized with themes and interact with artists
  2. Mezuzahs – Customizable with colors, lots of artists make mezuzahs because of their personal interests in making the item
  3. Scarves – Customizable, much more appreciated when a customer wants a scarf and collaborates directly with the artist in a social way or can purchase from the artist’s stock and can include buttons or other embellishments
  4. Pillows – frontal square designs of pillows can be customized with colors or chosen from the artist’s backlog.
  5. Silkscreen orders – Shirts, sweatpants, any sort of garment that you can put an image onto
  6. Unique materials – Keepsakes, centerpieces, trinkets, pictures printed onto items such as necklaces, keychains, etched mirrors, glass items, tabletop items
  7. Paintings and drawings done by artists
Soul Center Mini

Big Hearts at Soul Center Mini

As construction continues on the future site of the Farber Soul Center, a new  temporary location has been opened to provide opportunities for young adults with special needs.

The “Soul Center Mini”, provides an exciting preview for the future. Only a fraction of the size of what the completed Farber Soul Center will be, every inch of the space is utilized for artful purpose. From weaving to printmaking, painting to graphic design, there is truly something for every artist to showcase their talent.

Upon entering Soul Center Mini, one cannot help but feel its impact. Entry walls display beautiful artwork, setting the stage for the potential and possibility beyond them. Instructors Carolyn Morris and Brian Kavanaugh have designed a space that provides opportunity and encourages collaboration. Carolyn, a gifted fiber artist, notes, “the way Brian’s arranged the space, the openness of it…it’s creating a sense of community. The people who are weaving are talking to the people who are making clay, inspiring joint projects and togetherness.”


Instructor Carolyn Morris leads artists in a weaving lesson.

Not only are the young adults instructed in a variety of media and encouraged to venture outside their comfort zones, they are educated on the responsibilities of a workplace. “We will be teaching specific skills to strengthen a person’s overall experience and resume…the scenarios that go along with having a job such as recording ones arrival and departure time, and how to handle social situations inherent to a work environment”, says Brian.

Additionally, every aspect that goes into a finished piece of art is attended to; each step treated as a learning opportunity. Artists have a hand in tasks such as stretching their canvases, installing their work, and cataloguing each piece, just to name a few.


Carolyn Morris and artist Devorah Newman weave a scarf.

Introducing Brian Kavanaugh

For Brian, his level of comfort working with special needs comes with experience. Graduating with a BFA, he went on to obtain a graduate degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art. He joins the Friendship Circle from Autism Services in Buffalo, New York where he worked in a similar center for the arts. As an artist himself, any chance to make a mark on the community in a tangible way made all the difference for him. He’s seeking to do the same for the individuals at the Soul Center.


Instructor Brian Kavanaugh hangs a tapestry woven at the Center.

Creating Works of Art Based on Personality

The level of enjoyment and quality of the work being created is directly correlated with the approach to instruction. Each artist’s background is carefully considered to determine where they might excel. For artist Saadia, the subject matter is much more important than the materials being used. Where as artist Aislinn’s interests lie in the process of a piece and the sensations of the material. Incorporation of these unique interests when working with the artists is what’s taking their abilities to the next level and always amounts to something beautiful.


Artist Saadia Grossbard composes a collage.

Excellence at Work

Though the wonderful guidance being offered at the Center is undeniable, nothing compares to when an artist takes charge of their direction. When asked about the most rewarding aspect of the day, Brian replied, “the moment where they, the artists, start to contemplate what the next move should be instead of other people telling them what to do, when they make the next decision. It’s so empowering for them.”


Artist Aislinn Wendrow contemplates her painting.

The Soul Center Mini has only been up and running for a short time, but the participating artists are finding a voice there. Each masterpiece represents the individuality and spirit of its creator, the very essence of art itself. The Center is paving the way for the Friendship Circle to expand its mission into the lives of young adults with special needs and the heart of the mission can be found there too.