Contact Buzz: Momentum Studio Gives Disabled Artists a Space to Create, Relax and Heal

Momentum Studio artists participate in a Bob Ross-style painting workshop. —Kelsey Kleinow/Little Village

Momentum. The impulse acquired by a moving object. Kelsey Kleinow doesn’t lead a static life – she lives the life of the art studio she runs: Momentum. His life and his mission are in motion. She and the community she serves intersect at the creative epicenter of Mainframe Studios in downtown Des Moines.

Her passion and work mirrors that of Christina Smith, Founder and CEO of Community Support Advocates (CSA). (Momentum is a CSA program.) Smith’s vision for Momentum is embraced by everyone connected through this innovative and impressive program.

Kleinow, as the Momentum Program Coordinator, is the catalytic resource person for this creativity and art production studio. The CSA’s slogan is “Hope. Resilience. Possibilities. When these descriptors are applied to a creative environment, the results are inspiring.

The origins of Momentum

Smith founded CSA 25 years ago. It provides support for people with a wide range of disabilities, including intellectual and other developmental disabilities, brain injuries, mental illnesses and substance abuse issues. Services are provided in Polk, Warren, Story and Jasper counties.

Smith recalls an early and memorable interaction with a new client, an artist before his mental health issues. She encouraged his reconnection to art. He responded, leading to his participation in an art exhibition. This exhibition was the first of many positive successes, and this artist was able to engage with people who saw him as an artist, not as someone who was sick. This immersion in an open exchange with patrons and other artists engaged him, revived him, she said.

“It fueled his mental health recovery,” Smith shares. “Having others see him in a different light has been transformational for him.”

This instigating event led to the artist’s return to school, work and a productive journey to improve his mental health. Smith influenced him – and he influenced her. The experience affirmed for Smith that art and creativity could be a catalyst for others. Eighteen years ago, the Momentum seed was planted. It all started with this art exhibition, which saw its first artist flourish, and which has become an annual event.

When Mainframe Studios first opened, Smith instinctively knew this was where Momentum needed to put down roots.
“I have to be there,” Smith remembers thinking. “I want Momentum to be part of the larger artistic community.”

This quantum creative leap took place in 2017. When Momentum established its studio at Mainframe, the first year, 500 people logged into the program.

Momentum in the community

CSA’s Momentum program welcomes anyone who identifies as having a disability. Those who come for support are accepted. This studio offers its clients the opportunity to benefit from the transformative power of art.

“We have artists who come in with monstrous talent,” shares Kleinow. “And we have artists who have never picked up a brush.”

Those who belong to this range of talents and experiences share a common bond: everyone understands that art is an expressive outlet and a guide for their own journeys.

“We foster that healing and that ability to express yourself through art,” Kleinow continues. “That’s what Momentum is. Binding comfort, stress relief and healing through the artwork. It’s really about the creative process; to be able to express themselves, to be able to be in a safe space.

“My colleague [Angela Ayala] and I have extensive artistic experience, so we can help you in any way, in any medium. The cool thing about Mainframe is if they want to try something we don’t have experience with, we can definitely find someone who does,” referring to the diversity of artists with studios there.

Applying the adage “it takes a village”, Kleinow adds “we have an awesome village (in Mainframe and its artists)”.
“The endgame…is not to sell their artwork or become a famous artist; it’s really just for healing. Kleinow goes on to share how “their clients’ confidence grows, their social anxiety decreases, because they’re talking about something they’re passionate about. It’s so cool.

One of the artist clients in the video on their website says, “No matter what happens outside these doors, never come in here. It’s like a safe place, you’re free, you can be yourself. She adds with a confident smile, “And I like it that way.”

Momentum gladly accepts all donated art supplies for its program.

John Busbee has worked as a freelance voice for Iowa’s cultural scene, including producing a weekly KFMG radio show, The Culture Buzz, since 2007. He received the 2014 Iowa Governor’s Award for Collaboration and Partnership in the arts. This article originally appeared in Little Village Central Iowa issue 002.