More than 30 years ago, Helen Dolas founded Arts & Services for Disabled, Inc. (ASD). She should be in the dictionary as a definition of “human dynamo.” 

ASD is a learning lab, art galleries, retail store (The Go! Store) and a hub of ideas and partnerships that all work together to help people with physical and mental disabilities. About 60 people work to teach music, art, cooking, dance and almost anything Dolas and her staff can dream up to help enrich the lives of their clients and help them make money from their efforts.

Right now, ASD seems to have a presence all over Long Beach. They are participating in A LOT with an “Echo Trail” sensory tunnel on the corner of Seventh Street and Pine Avenue. There are simultaneous art exhibits in three other locations, including one at the Long Beach Health Department.

At EXPO Arts Center in Bixby Knolls, “CORE 9 Defining Ourselves” offers more than 80 pieces of art created by the people ASD serves. This is the ninth year of the CORE exhibit, showing now through Sept. 21.

All these exhibits provide a forum for artists to showcase and sell their work. They prove that a disability is not a hindrance to creating beautiful works of art and crafts. You need to be reminded that these artists have “challenged” lives — because some of this work can stand beside anything out there.

This year’s juried exhibit is curated by Carlos Arredondo, a visual and performing artist from Hawthorne. Included is a special guest exhibition, “From China With Love,” that for the first time brings the works of Chinese artists with disabilities to America. 

The 12 Chinese artworks are well-crafted pieces with very distinctive Asian style. They are surprisingly large and grand in scope, particularly when you imagine the physical effort to create some of them.

The greater part of the CORE 9 exhibit, from local artists, contains some true standout pieces.

Steve-O (yep, that’s the name) offers an acrylic-on-paper piece entitled “Mona Wanna, 2013.” You will be struck by how it immediately reminds you of the Mona Lisa. His subject is an Indian woman, but her expression and stance is the same. Although the painting style is casual-expressive, the resemblance is unmistakable — and it’s gorgeous.

Kurt Weston offers a photo, “Losing the Light,” that seems to be an image of a person in a car going through a car wash, with their face and fingers pressed against the window — streaks of soapy water swishing across the glass. It makes you look twice.

Salvadorian artist Rocio Villa-

lobos was enthusiastically greeting visitors at the opening. She recently had surgery for her scoliosis of the spine. She shows three pieces that clearly are inspired by her physical challenge. She depicts a spinal cord image and surrounds it with butterfly wings; dancers with fantasy limbs and arms prance in the sky. Her dreamlike images are executed with great skill and thoughtfulness.

Villalobos was injured (T7 paraplegia) when she was 8 years old. She said she believes that art has the power to break through any barrier. 

“Art can bring us together as a community regardless of cultural background or physical ability,” she said. “Art is a language you are born with and can help you handle the feelings and topographies of scars.”

CORE 9 “Defining Ourselves” is showing from 4 to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For information, call 982-0252.

Elizabeth Thomas can be reached through editor@gazettes.com.

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