The people she serves and works with every day at ArtWorks Gallery & Studio inspire Kaitlin Harrison.
Through her job as senior program coordinator and gallery director for the downtown Scranton site, the Union Dale resident runs the gallery’s day program for adults with intellectual disabilities. Harrison and the day program staff work to immerse people with disabilities into the art community.
“We’re a hidden gem; not a lot of people know about our services,” Harrison said. “We’re doing something really special here.”
Art grabbed her attention early in life, with her mother always ensuring that she participated in art classes. Now 30, Harrison remembers always being signed up for music, ceramics, painting or woodworking classes. Along with all that came a desire to work with people with disabilities.
“My interest began at an early age,” Harrison recalled. “I volunteered working for a nonprofit studio space that offered classes for individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism in addition to the public. I believe that truly sparked my interest to pursue working with the population as a career.”
After graduating from Abington Heights High School, Harrison earned a bachelor’s degree in visual arts with a specialization in art therapy from Keystone College. She started her career as an art instructor and began working for ArtWorks in 2014.
Harrison credits Laura Brown-Yadlosky, CEO of Keystone Community Resources, the gallery’s sister company, for leading her to the role. Both companies work hand-in-hand to provide services for people with intellectual disabilities. Harrison, who is enrolled in Drexel University’s graduate program for arts administration, has learned from her experience “to not focus on people’s disability but their ability,” she said and hopes “to have a voice” for disabled individuals.
ArtWorks recently moved from a building on Lackawanna Avenue with only one classroom to a three-story building on Penn Avenue, and Harrison credits community support for helping ArtWorks have acquire such a bigger space.
“We had a lot of people on board. Our gallery and building were packed for our opening,” she said. “We have repeat customers that really appreciate what we’re doing and are consistently purchasing work.”
Harrison hopes to open an online store soon so people can see and buy the gallery’s artwork. She is constantly researching new ways to build the program and make improvements to the entire gallery.
Although she doesn’t have much time to work on her own personal artwork anymore, Harrison hopes to change that.
“I do intend on shifting my focus and making time to create a body of work to be exhibited in the near future,” she said.
In the meantime, she wants to continue sharing her love of art with her daughter.
“I am absolutely passing art onto her,” Harrison said. “We do daily art activities, and I love reading to her about artists. I would not be able to function without art in my life.”
The most important thing she has learned from all her experiences is that “kindness really brings you a long way in life,” she said, and the kindness and passion ArtWorks has for its intellectual disabilities program make it successful.
“I truly love what I do,” Harrison said. “I love going to work because it doesn’t feel like work to me. This is my dream job.”
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 579-348-9127
Meet Kaitlin Harrison
- At home: Lives in Union Dale with her husband and family
- At work: Senior program coordinator and gallery director at ArtWorks Gallery & Studio, Scranton
- Inspirations: Watching ArtWorks’ students enjoyment and seeing the abilities they’re capable of
- Aspirations: To spread awareness for all individuals and inform the public about intellectual disabilities.
- Diversions: Doing research, art, hiking and skiing
- Quote: “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing — and keeping the unknown always behind you.” — Georgia O’Keeffe