Creative Identity’s (CI) mission is to improve the lives and societal perceptions of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities by providing therapeutic and educational interventions that cultivate personal and social responsibility, pre-vocational skills, independence, and creative potential. George Gilliam, a Music Therapist and professional jazz guitarist, founded Creative Identity CI in Anaheim, CA in 1996 to offer meaningful opportunities for adults with IDD to participate in the fine arts community.
Many opportunities are available to children with IDD for socialization and self-improvement, most of these become unavailable once they become adults and leave the educational system. CI’s unique approach allows participants to improve their socialization and prevocational skills while unleashing their often-untapped creative talents through art and music. Many program participants come from underserved communities where arts programs have been reduced or eliminated entirely, and for some it is the first time they have been allowed to express themselves through music and art. CI provides much needed social support for these individuals in addition to offering them an opportunity to learn new skills through painting, ceramics, jewelry making, singing, and playing musical instruments. Individuals with IDD are used to being given to. CI’s programs allow them the rare opportunity to give back to their communities in the form of music performances and art show
During the COVID-19 pandemic many programs serving adults with IDD have had to close their doors. Creative Identity (CI) continues to maintain program services for adults with IDD by alternate means including delivery of class supplies, in-person and remote online instruction through live video classes. Individuals with IDD experience high rates of disconnectedness from meaningful community participation and social engagement. According to Syracuse University’s April 2020 study “COVID-19 and Pneumonia: Increased Risk for Individuals with IDD... '' there is an increased risk of severe complications if an individual with IDD contacts COVID-19. Because of this risk, there are even fewer opportunities for our program participants to engage with their peers and community and to build their prevocational, musical, and artistic skills.
The following is a parent testimonial from a program participant:
“As a high school biology teacher, I explained to my students that solitary confinement is used as punishment because human beings are social creatures. If nothing else, the pandemic taught us all how important even minor social interactions are to our well-being. One population that suffers more than most from social isolation are the developmentally disabled, who often cannot comprehend the necessity of disease prevention through social distancing. Our son, Alex, who has Down syndrome, was bewildered when told he could not return to his day program, Creative Identity, in Laguna Beach. It is not an exaggeration to say that this day program preserved his sanity during the past 2 years, by allowing him, every week, to remotely interact with his friends and teachers. I have friends of other disabled adults that were not so lucky. One of Alex’s friends has lost all interest in life and spends hours a day in a bedroom closet, pounding the wall in his frustration, refusing to come out because his in-person day program is canceled and does not provide services remotely. This young man’s mother is distraught, anxiously watching her son lose his language skills, and both are becoming seriously depressed. In contrast, I see Alex’s mood lighten every day when he joins in an online music, drawing or yoga class with his teachers at Creative Identity. He creates beautiful works of art while he chats animatedly with his friends and remains happy for hours afterward. I shudder to think what would have happened to him if this dedicated group of people had not thrown him this lifeline during this difficult time.” -Cindy Segal
The general public’s lack of understanding, experience, and interaction with this special group of people contributes to these individuals often being defined by their barriers, which misrepresents their true value as an individual and as a contributing member of society. However, when given access to fine arts education and prevocational skill building, adults with IDD can develop their career and employment potentials and improve their quality of life. The PGI is transforming societal perceptions of persons with IDD by providing supported opportunities for them to demonstrate their creative contributions to society.