Just as spring flowers are blossoming in April, so is the creativity of the ARI Artist Initiative members who are preparing for their lively, colorful exhibition "Ari Goes Wild" at the Stamford Art Association from April 16 through April 30. The public opening reception is Saturday April 16 from 2 to 4 p.m.

The ARI Artists' Initiative was founded in 2003 by Stamford printmaker and painter Donald Axleroad to offer a creative outlet for developmentally challenged adults. ARI (Always Reaching for Independence) of Connecticut, Inc. has been providing developmentally disabled adults in the greater Stamford area with jobs, housing options, and other services for over 50 years at their Stamford headquarters on Richmond Hill Road.

In this exhibit, the ARI artists unleash their "wilder" side, stepping out of their everyday surroundings to explore their interpretations of the wild animal kingdom in various mediums including acrylics, watercolors, pencils and markers.

"Art enables people to express thoughts and emotions which they may find difficult to convey in normal conversation or in writing," Axleroad said. He and a colleague, Charles Wiesehahn, have been giving weekly art lessons to ARI members -- who range in age from their 20s to 70s -- for more than seven years in the ARI headquarters. "It is very rewarding to see members of the class grow and gain confidence as they discover their own innate abilities to create. We've seen some amazing results," said Axleroad.

The ARI Artists Initiative began as a small class with just four students, but since its inception it has grown to include over 20 artists from ARI, according to Gerard Gasparino, ARI's manager of development and recreation.

"Both Don Axleroad and Charles Wiesehahn have helped give a wonderful resource to these artists. Not only do they gain self confidence; they also tend to socialize more during the classes as they share their sketchbook images," he said.

"ARI Goes Wild" will be on exhibit at the Stamford Art Association, 39 Franklin Street through April 30, open Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 1noon to 3 p.m. Call 203-325-1139.

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