The Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts, at the corner of 118 Avenue and 93 Street, houses a unique collective of artists with developmental disabilities.

“Our collective is coming here to make art and have a good day,” said Brenda Christiansen, studio manager.

At the centre, citizens with disabilities have the chance to learn an array of skills, including music, dance, painting, computer animation, clay, drawing, textiles, and screen printing.

The centre opened in 2003, in honour of Nina Haggerty, an Albertan diagnosed with polio.

Haggerty was born in the early 1900s. When she was diagnosed, she was placed in a home for “mental defectives.” She lived there for 50 years until the SKILLS Society, an organization supporting individuals with disabilities, helped her live in the community. After leaving the institution, she began to take art classes and discovered unbridled joy in the process.

After she died, SKILLS helped open the centre with the intention of sharing the joy Haggerty felt while making art with others.

“We don’t offer lecture-based classes for art,” said Rona Fraser, director of fund development for the Nina. Instead, the focus is on self-expression through art.

The size of the collective continues to grow. | Breann Gurney

It’s a popular place for its collective and for the public.

The Nina is open 10 am to 2 pm on weekdays to serve its members with a packed schedule, which includes the Rising Sun Theatre group on Mondays, tai chi on Tuesdays, The Alberta Artists with Brain Injury Society on Wednesdays, Crystal Kids on Thursdays, and LGBT members on Fridays.

In addition to the daytime hours, the Nina has Community Art Night from 6:30 to 8:30 pm on Tuesdays and Family Art Night from 6:30 to 8:30 pm on Thursdays.  

The size of the collective continues to grow as more people with disabilities discover the Nina. Agencies operating alongside individuals with disabilities usually recommend the program, and the public can purchase memberships.

The Nina runs assorted fundraisers every year to lower the cost of membership, currently $175 per year for one day a week. In co-operation with annual fundraisers, the centre participates in community events. They also have a patron program. For a yearly donation of $500, patrons are assigned an artist and can meet him or her and receive a piece of that artist’s work.

“Art can’t help but give people a chance to express themselves,” said Christiansen.

Over the past 15 years, the program has expanded and created more opportunities for its artists.

One artist had her own exhibition in 2013 which included works in paint, pencil, and pastel. The exhibition had an underwater theme featuring whales, dolphins, fish, and sea monsters. Local media and reporters attended the event. By the end of the exhibition, the artist had sold just about every piece in her show.

“The Nina gives its members a chance to express themselves and create on a level playing field,” said Fraser.

Featured Image: The Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts has been open since 2003. | Jennifer Parker