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Self-Advocate Artists On Display

August 22, 2011

The 25th Anniversary of the Self-Advocacy Conference in Manhattan got a little bit brighter thanks to the inspiring paintings, drawings and photographs by YAI Network’s own artists!


A feature of the conference, hosted by the Self-Advocacy Assocation of New York State (SANYS) and which celebrates the accomplishments of self-advocacy groups throughout New York City, was a gallery of work by YAI consumers who express themselves creatively through a camera lens or on a canvas. About a dozen bright, framed art pieces were hung at the front of the conference room, where YAI Self-Advocates and visitors alike lined up to see the work and speak to the artists in attendance. 

For photographer Jerry L., who has been a YAI Self-Advocate for the past 32 years, it was a chance to pass along the lessons taught to him in art classes he began taking through YAI in 2002.

“They taught me, ‘you stay still, get it all in your eye-line, concentrate’,” he said, holding up his silver digital camera to demonstrate the technique he has since perfected.


A sampling of Jerry’s work—which he estimates at about 150 photos that have made it to print—was hung on the walls. The photos, of bright bird houses in Amish country, an unusually still Las Vegas sidewalk and a space shuttle, were shot on trips he has taken cross-country with his wife.

“I take pictures of what I see that I really like,” Jerry said. “I love to take pictures. I love it when I see my name on it. I feel really proud.”


Artist Robert J. Jr., another YAI Self-Advocate attending the conference, also had multiple pieces displayed. His work mixed mediums, including drawings and acrylic paintings—though, Robert noted, he also can work in pastels, watercolors and with photography.

His work on display included an acrylic painting of the Freedom Tour as well as work featuring President Barack Obama and his family.

“I saw the President, his wife and his family on the TV and then found a picture of them in the newspaper before I sketched them,” he said. “It took two weeks – I worked on it two or three hours a day.”

Art is a subject Robert learned a lot about when he lived at home as a young boy and in summer camp, before moving into his own YAI supportive apartment in 1990.


Though art has been a passion for Robert since he was a child, his involvement with YAI began in the 1980s. Since then, Robert has become president of YAI’s Self-Advocacy group, which was honored at the conference with the prestigious Self-Advocacy Group of the Year award. Along with fellow members of the group, Robert attends the annual SANYS Statewide Self-Advocacy Conference in Albany. His work with YAI has given him the opportunity to enhance his love of art and an outlet to showcase his talents.

“I bring my art with me to Albany, and set it up at a table so people can see it and buy it,” Robert said. “I got my painting sold; I get paid for it. It makes me feel proud.”