Miss Gabi Partners with Kate Cala to Create Art Studio

In October, Gabrielle Nastuck unexpectedly resigned as director of the Latrobe Art Center, a post she'd held for about seven years.

During her tenure, the center grew in both size and influence in the community, with innovations such as new programs for children with special needs, along with children's summer art camps and many adult workshops.

Not one to sit still, Nastuck already has a new vision and a new business card to go with it. The business card reads, “Miss Gabi's Art is Good Healing Arts Program. Art teacher and mentor for children and adults with special needs.”

Her dream is to have a space where people of all abilities can come together to learn and grow through art. She's working on it with Kate Cala, director of East Suburban Citizen Advocacy, a Murrysville-based nonprofit group whose mission is to “provide advocacy and to build inclusive opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities.”

The pair recently sat down to discuss the concept.

Nastuck also says anyone who's interested can contact her through her website, gabriellenastuck.com .

Question: Gabi, how did your idea for an all-inclusive art center develop?

Nastuck: Art has helped me, obviously, and sometimes I forget that. Art and music, look at how that's taken me through life.

(Seeing people I mentored who had special needs) say, wow, this is what I want to do too, it became very important to me. That's when it hit me, there needs to be more of this. We need to have more equality and acceptance. We want to have art and music and theater and writing, and then we'll look at ways of combining all of that.

Q: Where are you in the process?

Nastuck: I'm ready to go (laughs). We're just lacking a space, so we're actively searching for a space. I'd like to be centrally located, right in the middle of Latrobe, Greensburg, Delmont, Murrysville, Ligonier. And start-up funds, too — we're working on getting funding for the studio.

As soon as we find the space, I'm ready to go.

Cala: We think of it as a place where all people are coming through our doors, not just people with disabilities. This is inclusive. I could go in and take a class. People would all be sitting down together. That's the beauty and that's where our interest is — when people get to know you, they're going to stand up for you. Sadly, people with disabilities often face challenges that they can't meet alone, so having outside voices to help is huge.

The word I would use is “inclusive.” That's what we're about, and that's how we want the world to be.

Nastuck: We need a very wide-open space to fit in everything we want to do, and that's part of the reason it's so hard to find. Of course, you need good wall space to display the work.

Cala: And accessibility.

Nastuck: You have to think of the bathrooms, is there a basement, are there steps? The drop-off situation and parking. How are you going to deal with the wheelchairs and the lifts? You have to think of that.

Q: Where are you in the funding process?

Cala: We're looking for area partners with an interest in our vision. I've met with two different commercial realtors, so we are actively searching. And we're searching for funding. I have a couple of grant proposals in the fire.

Q: I haven't heard of anyone else in the area doing this — integrating so-called ‘normal' people and people with special needs into the same classes.

Cala: You want to remove barriers, so anyone can come. That's what I saw Gabi doing at (Latrobe Art Center), and that's the beauty of what we want to do. That's what's happening out in the world now, but it has a long way to go. So this can be a beautiful vehicle for making a change and making our world better.

Q: Gabi, you said very little at the time about your reasons for leaving the art center. Would you like to revisit that now?

Nastuck: I have nothing negative to say about the art center, my coworkers, the artists, all of those people. Yes, there were philosophical differences. But I want to keep this on a very positive spin. I don't want to be that negative person. I did nothing wrong, I just did what this (points to her heart) told me to do.

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Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750, smcmarlin@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shirley_trib.