A woman in a wheelchair holding a palette knife and painting in the air around her

Painting the Downtown Beautiful Despite MS

Dan and I literally left our mark on Mt. Pleasant one Saturday morning in the middle of June. In fact, I believe we left the city even more beautiful than we found it.

Painting from my wheelchair

“Just start in the middle and work your way out,” the Art Reach of Mid Michigan volunteer kept repeating. Her instructions made sense to me, but the other 25 or so amateur painters didn’t exactly grasp what she was saying about the organization’s annual project to paint the three major intersections in the city’s downtown.

“No, no. If you just paint wherever you want, the design will be ruined by footprints everywhere,” she continued explaining. “So start painting in the middle of the design and paint your way to the edges.”

I knew my painting skills were needed at those edges, and that they were the most accessible, wheelchair-friendly part of the design. If I waited patiently for the center of the mosaic to get its color, the outlined edges would be perfect for me to paint from my chair.

An event accessible to everyone

Just a few hours earlier, artistic volunteers used thick duct tape to create a kind of paint-by-numbers design for community members to follow. Now we were filling in the drawings and artistically beautifying our city.

As the painting started to fill up and move closer to the outer edges, I was more than ready to respond. Dan stood by and loaded up my paint roller, complete with a broom handle extension, with vibrant orange paint – appropriate given that is the color most often associated with multiple sclerosis.

I quickly deposited large blobs of the latex onto the pavement in the select triangles that were marked to paint orange. Me, the person with secondary progressive MS who uses a power wheelchair, was painting a lovely mural right there on the downtown street in the middle of the city where Dan and I have called home for nearly two decades. This art project was available and accessible to everyone in the community; even non-artistic, MS-affected Dan and me.

The value of new experiences

He and I experienced firsthand the benefit of engaging in art. We feel art improves resiliency, increases confidence, and lowers anxiety. We also felt pride and happiness knowing that this art project included us; inclusion is so critical to a person living with a chronic illness. Participating also was rewarding because we created something original and beautiful that our community can enjoy.

This was such an empowering experience for me. And after leaving my artistic mark on Mt. Pleasant (I still smile each time we’re downtown and see the triangles that I painted), I plan to search for other opportunities like this. I want to continue challenging myself and make my presence known in my community.

I realized the value in new experiences and how they keep me from dwelling on what I no longer can do, and instead help me to focus on what I still can do for myself and my neighbors.

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