Feeling the bright-colored fabric with her fingers, 17-year-old Alondra is delighted.

That she’s in a wheelchair and has difficulty lifting anything very heavy doesn’t deter her. She is determined to find the fabric she wants and create a short skirt of her design to include in this year’s Beautiful Minds MALI Art Exhibition for Individuals with Different Abilities, “Unveiling our True Creativity.”

“I love fashion. I never thought I was going to do it, but it’s my dream to be a fashion designer,” Alondra said.

Sponsored by Amerigroup, ARC of El Paso, Dr. Mario Maldonado, OT for Tots and Angels Mission, Beautiful Minds is the brainchild of Magda Galloza, who said one of the group’s main goals to give self-esteem to those with both mental and physical disabilities.

By providing some guidance and a few modifications, students ages 7 on up create artwork that will be displayed at El Paso Museum of Art Dec. 1-6.

After creating an artwork last year that showed her artistic and design abilities, “Alondra came back to the program this year a different person,” Galloza said. “She knows she can do it now. She came with her ideas and knew how she wanted to do it.”

Galloza, a Purdue-trained civil engineer from Puerto Rico who has also spent much of her life in the art world, became interested in starting this nonprofit program after she quit her job to help her son, who is on the autism spectrum.

“There are no locations here where there are enough personnel to work with kids the way they need,” she said. “If you provide a good environment and the necessary accommodations and modifications, the students are capable of doing anything.”

When Galloza went looking for a space, ARC of El Paso offered a space at their Sunland Park Mall locations. 

Every weekend, a board member comes and opens up the space for them to work. ARC Treasurer Roxanne Parker said they are happy to provide a space. 

“Our mission is to serve intellectually and developmentally delayed individuals and their families,” Parker said. “People need to realize the people we serve have abilities. We celebrate triumphs and support them so they can continue to achieve.”

The first art show at the El Paso History Museum two years ago was a success, but after COVID-19 hit, Galloza provided videos so participants could do a science experiment at home, part of the science/engineering aspect of the group’s work.

This year, she was ecstatic when the Museum of Art called and offered to put on a week-long exhibit. 

Museum personnel went to the first exhibition and “were amazed at all the art pieces our kids did, ”Galloza said.

Another repeat participant in the art show is T.J., 27, who loves Disney. He’s a fan of Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear, who he added to his artwork last year.

“To infinity and beyond,” he said, taking up the pose of the space ranger from the movie franchise.

This year, he’s creating clouds and sky so Peter Pan, Wendy, and the gang can fly. His mom, Lisa Mitchell, said she met Galloza through the Autism Society’s Adventure Zone.

“When she decided to open this (Beautiful Minds art program), we jumped on it,” Mitchell said, adding that programs which include adults are few and far between.

“T.J. doesn’t let me help him, so it’s all him,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been here an hour, and he usually doesn’t sit that long. He is always so happy and proud to see the end results. This has been great for both of us.”

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