Children and Adult Disability and Educational Services just celebrated the completion of a mural project in Swarthmore that’s the first of its kind. Students in wheelchairs played a significant role in painting the mural, making it the first wheelchair art mural in the Philadelphia area. CADES is a Swarthmore-based organization that serves both children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.
Edwin Perez first met Philly-based muralist Nick Dauria at an art show. Several years later, the CADES art teacher recommended Dauria for this special project, which incorporates simple inspirational words like “growth,” “trust” and “peace.” “We started with the kids’ work and did that whole process on the ground,” says Dauria.
A cloth used for exterior mural installations was primed and laid out across the gymnasium floor. Using rollers attached to students’ wheelchairs, they were able to create as they glided across the cloth. Once this stage was complete, Dauria worked out a collage-style design that incorporated his own art into the students’ work. The cloth the students painted was then glued to the exterior wall with something similar to wallpaper paste. “The kids worked really, really hard,” says CADES staffer Jessica Bowler. “Some of our kids are nonverbal, so this is one way they get to express themselves and communicate with us.”
When students first laid eyes on the mural, their faces lit up. “I see the artist in every single one of them,” says Perez. “They teach me a lot.”
“The project has had an impact on so many levels,” adds CADES communications director Jon-Paul Pedergnana. “It gave our students an opportunity to be heard and seen by our surrounding community, as well as communities we’ve never been connected to, like the mural arts scene in Philadelphia.”
Swarthmore Mayor Marty Spiegel calls the mural an “inspired” piece of art. “We’re so lucky to have it here in Swarthmore, and I hope people have an opportunity to come through and really enjoy it,” he says.
CADES director of development Jessie Robinson was as thrilled as the students to see the finished product. “This has been an eyesore of a wall for a long time, and it didn’t represent our personality at all,” she says. “Now it does. It’s something that’s unusual and unique, and I think it’s going to inspire more art throughout the school and the community.”