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Gallery of Art and Learning: A small shop with a big purpose

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CANTON — Nothing makes Roger A. Bourcier happier than seeing a customer admire his oil paintings in the window and on the walls of the Gallery of Art and Learning, 101 Main St.

“When people come in and see my paintings, I like to see a smile on their face,” he said, with a smile on his own face. “It makes me feel happy because they want to buy the painting and they think it’s great and I’m really proud of myself for all the work I put into it.”

Two years after opening, G.O.A.L. is growing with new goals for the storefront as well as the contributing artists.

The gallery is home to artwork by approximately 50 artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities served by St. Lawrence NYSARC.

Open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, the gallery provides a space for the artists to display and sell their work from glass jewelry to oil paintings, colorful drawings, etched items and hand-sewn products.

“It’s a small shop with a big purpose,” said Melody M. Beaudin, sales representative for GOAL, who’s worked for St. Lawrence NYSARC for 20 years.

Ms. Beaudin said she’s been working at the gallery since March. She said upcoming goals for the gallery include teaching the artists to work as employees to help run the gallery as well as having local artists not affiliated with NYSARC contribute to the gallery.

“It’s also a training facility where we will be training people with disabilities for different things such as the skills needed to work in a store-type setting,” Ms. Beaudin said.

Michelle I. Quinell-Gayle, assistant executive director of community relations for St. Lawrence NYSARC, said said a big push in the disability field is to have people trained to be in the community. Having the artists work in the gallery as staff members, she said, will help achieve that goal.

“Now, with this transition, we’re ready to teach workplace skills,” Ms. Quinell-Gayle said. “So, we want to teach our individuals to work right alongside Melody to run the storefront.”

Ms. Beaudin said right now that gallery features work from three other local artists, but they’d like to have more.

“St. Lawrence NYSARC is firmly committed to integration, so for us, just to have a gallery that highlights what we do is not nearly as fabulous as working right alongside an artist that doesn’t have disabilities,” Ms. Quinell-Gayle said.

Maggie C. Atchie, 18, has been in the community arts program for about five years and loves to paint and make glass jewelry. She said she was very excited to know that people have walked into the gallery and purchased her creations.

“I like to make people see that we are individuals and we are unique like everyone else is,” she said.

Peter J. Henry, 31, said his favorite art form is oil paintings of barns and landscapes. He said he’s been in the program since it began in 2005.

“I like to make things that people like,” he said. “I make artwork at home a lot too and give it to my friends.”

Mr. Bourcier said that although he prefers oil painting, he’s learned to create several different forms of art and is looking forward to learning watercolor as well.

“These people help out and they’re just like family,” he said, referring to St. Lawrence NYSARC.

Andrea M. Montgomery, director of the community arts program for St. Lawrence NYSARC, said they have a contest every year for the artist’s work to be featured on the company Christmas card. Last year, she said, Mr. Bourcier won.

“It’s just so motivating for myself, and I think I can speak for the rest of the staff, to come to work each day and have individuals who are just so happy and filled with joy to share their talents and abilities,”Ms. Montgomery said.

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