clyfford still | museum
Detail of a black, blue, maroon, orange and white abstract oil painting where the blue squiggles through the center
Clyfford Still, PH-963, 1957 (detail). Oil on canvas, 104 x 114 in. Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO. © City and County of Denver / ARS, NY

Striking Out Stigma with Project Eye-to-Eye and the Clyfford Still Museum

By Gillian Kennedy Terespolski, CSM Educator

For many of us who are disabled, attending college can be a traumatic experience. I didn’t finish my undergraduate degree at Bucknell University in the allotted four years; I enrolled at Columbia University to finish my remaining credits. It was there that the disability services office connected me with Project Eye-to-Eye.

In all honesty, I was blown away. A mentoring program that paired neurodivergent college students with similarly labeled middle schoolers? That removed the stigmas, judgments, and barriers that are so often attached to being neurodivergent? Where do I sign up?!

Woman wearing a black leather jacket looks up into the distance as she sits on a bench in front of a colorful abstract oil painting with blue, black, orange, maroon, and white paint
CSM Educator Gillian Kennedy Terespolski by Trevr Merchant

Throughout my 5th year of undergraduate studies, I was a mentor with Project Eye-to-Eye. Once a week we met with students at a nearby middle school and did projects together. These projects, based on a social-emotional curriculum, fostered a profound sense of connection between the mentors and mentees and enabled us to share our stories in safe spaces that aren’t always available to us in classroom settings. Together, my mentee and I got to explore how creativity can be used to express ourselves in ways that formalistic agendas, like 504s and IEPs, fail to address. In sharing our stories, we created a community of solidarity that helped us feel a little less alone and considerably more empowered.

It was during my time with Project Eye-to-Eye that I realized my passion for working with students and people with disabilities in a creative capacity. And, now, a decade after graduating, I am continuing to pursue my dreams of teaching as an educator at the Clyfford Still Museum. The Education Department at CSM is dedicated to providing accessible, inclusive, diverse, and equitable programs for students of all ages and abilities – from infants to lifelong learners. Our school programs and lessons are student-driven; they’re doing the talking, thinking, creating, and wondering. Because Clyfford Still wanted viewers to form their own interpretations of his art he intentionally left his works untitled. This freedom of interpretation invites students to form their own ideas and perspectives of his artworks. They also get a chance to create their own piece of art using lines, shapes, colors, movements, and textures to express themselves, just as Clyfford Still did.

I have the daily privilege of witnessing firsthand the magic of  imaginations unfolding as our students take on the mysteries of Clyfford Still’s abstract expressionism. Both Project Eye-to-Eye and Clyfford Still Museum share a common belief that children are endlessly creative, empathic creatures, capable of a range of complex emotional and intellectual connections. These two institutions have greatly influenced the person and educator I am today, for their dedication to learning of a different order. I salute their extraordinary contributions to the field.

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