Art and ‘variety show’ celebrates community

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First Posted: 3/18/2013

After walking into the Verve Vertu Art Studio at Downtown Arts (47 N. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre), it was clear that something very special was going on.

Peach-colored walls set the mood for a room that was full of colorful creations, including canvas paintings, handmade pins, purses, hats, and many more unique items. The art coordinator, Gwen Harleman, was overjoyed to tell the story behind this program.

Verve Vertu is part of the Deutsch Institute, which has been around for over 30 years. The Deutsch Institute is an agency that hosts leisure and recreational activities for people with disabilities. Six years ago, Harleman decided to open a branch that would cater to all people with special needs, both physical and mental.

“I love art and I love my job, which was working with people with special needs. I thought it would be great to have an art center that you could open up to everybody, not just something that you have to be member of,” Harleman explained.

“Verve Vertu” means high energy and excellence in objects of art. For over six years, it has been a place where people with special needs can go to express their creativity. Their art has been commissioned to hang in business offices and homes throughout the community and is also sold in local galleries. But, on a wider scale, their art can be viewed all over the world in countries like Denmark, Ireland, England, and Afghanistan.

Each year, Verve Vertu hosts a fundraiser event to promote Intellectual Disabilities Awareness Month in March. The event includes many aspects of the community and is open to anyone and everyone. This year, the family-friendly event, titled “Celebrating Community,” will have numerous entertainment acts, including a hula hooper on the lawn, a ukulele orchestra, dancers, and even reggae artist George Wesley.

“In the past, we’ve had comments from people who have traveled all over the world that said this is really a true variety show,” Harleman said.

This year is the first year that Verve Vertu will be teaming up with the Fine Arts Fiesta for a dual fundraiser. Half of the proceeds will go to the Fiesta, which will be taking place this year from May 16 to May 19 on Public Square in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

“We really hope that we get some community turnout. It’s family friendly. There’s a lot of interesting things. There will be great entertainment, good food, and good company,” she noted.

“I hope that people are going to walk away and feel like that was a good way to invest your evening because people’s time is valuable.”

Much of the artwork made in the Verve Vertu studio can also be viewed at