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  • Writer's pictureSue Skavlem

Pilot Program - Art & Soul

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

How one mother's dream to connect her adult son to something bigger, sparked a whole new space for adults with disabilities in the Fargo Community

When You Want To Grow A Dream: Start Small

If you meet Val Olson, you'll immediately feel like you're being welcomed into her life. She sits across from me in lake life casual apparel, with a sparkle in her eye that says she lives life, and with humble attitude as she tells me about her dream: To create a space for everyone to feel welcome.

So Many Questions

I was introduced to Val as she was looking to create her brand and logo for a new art space & cafe Charlie's Place, and from our very first meeting, I can't stop asking her questions.

She is doing something new to enable adults with disabilities to express themselves, to find community, and to have the opportunity for employment as well.

I had so many questions:

Who would benefit?

How would they apply?

Where would they meet?

How would the classes be held?

Wait, there's a cafe too?

Val just laughs and tells me about the reason behind her dream.

"I was 17 when I had Charlie," She says. "He had Down Syndrome."

"We lived on a farm in a small town, and we learned that we needed to advocate for our son. I noticed he was starting to show signs of depression...I was able to see there are not a lot of things for people with depression. And when they got older, there wasn’t a way for them to plug into a social circle once they've aged out of the school system."

After much soul-searching and research, Val found an art studio in California that is designed specifically for adults with disabilities.

"I saw this art studio, and thought, 'This is it!' I thought how could we make this work for Charlie and other people.

In order for Val to see if this could work, before she put in the work to create a full-blown non-profit, and put together the plan for a cafe space & art studio, she knew she needed to test the idea. Just because something works in California, doesn't mean it would work in Fargo... so she tested it out with a 4-week pilot program.

"How long was the program?" I ask "Four weeks," Val continues, "The month of June, 2021, Art and Soul sponsored a Pilot Program at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, ND. We held classes twice a day, two days a week, for four weeks."

What kind of participants did you have?

"We had the privilege of working with ten individuals (and their staff from their agency) in each session. We brought in guest artists who volunteered their time to work with the individuals."

How did the program work?

"Sunshine," she quips.

"We were able to serve many different individuals with disabilities ranging from mental illness to the profoundly disabled.

We used paints, fabric, shaving cream, and many different textures to help them create, have fun, and express themselves!"

Why does this program focus on Adults with Disabilities?

"There is a huge need for adult individuals with disabilities to feel a purpose in their life," Val says.

Why is it important for people with disabilities to have a place to do art?

"Creativity improves mental health & art improves self-expression...Everyone has an inner Artist. The beauty of art is that anyone can create it, not just the gifted or talented."

What agencies did you work with? CCRI, Friendship, VTC and Anne Carlsen

After the success of the 2021 pilot program, Val Olson started a 501 3(c) for the Art and Soul Program - in 2023, they will break ground for Charlie's Place.

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1 Comment

Cindy Johnston
Cindy Johnston
Nov 17, 2023


"If you build it, they will come." Quote from Field of Dreams

You took a vision, provided a purpose, and behold WE have a mission! Journey, create, grow with love...repeat...

Cindy Johnston

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