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Finding Her Voice

            by Jesse Harbin / May, 2018


Some people have said that Dana Anderson is useless, that she will never contribute anything to society.

Those people are wrong.

The 25-year-old woman was born with Down syndrome and autism, but that isn’t stopping her from giving back. It took a while for Dana to find her passion since she doesn’t talk or write, but when she did start creating, she quickly made waves in the art community. In fact, she sold more than $8,500 worth of paintings at her first art show and donated all that money to a local nonprofit to help other adults with disabilities endeavor in the arts.

Her mother, Janet Anderson, said Dana uses painting as a way to express herself — something she’s always struggled with. Not only does Dana use painting as her voice, she’s an overnight star in the art world.

“You can’t help that people are always going to assume that (Dana does) wonderful paintings for someone who has disabilities, but that’s not true,” Janet said. “Dana does wonderful paintings, period.”

Art Class

Growing up, Dana was only allowed to take art classes until fifth grade. Students with special needs don’t take electives in Huntsville City Schools, so Dana’s education was mostly focused on life skills. That works for a lot of students, but it kept Dana from realizing her gift of painting.

When Inside Out Studio opened in Huntsville in 2016, it offered a place for adults with special needs to explore their artistic side. A few weeks in to her once-a-week studio time, Dana started to blossom. She has tried other activities — Miracle League baseball and the dance program at Merrimack Hall — but found the noises and crowds overwhelming. Her time in the studio with only an art assistant helping her suits her personality much better.

“She works on a painting for maybe 10 minutes, and it turns out to be this marvelous painting,” Janet said.

Janet, who studied art in college, didn’t even recognize Dana’s skill at first. She does a lot of her paintings sideways, so it wasn’t until Janet took a cell phone picture of one of Dana’s paintings and set her phone down, accidentally seeing the image sideways, that she figured out what was going on.

“You look it and think, ‘Okay, these are really cool choices of colors that she uses,’ and then you turn it a direction and suddenly go, ‘Oh my Lord, this is an amazing landscape,’ ” Janet said.

She paints with tongue-sticking-out concentration, focused solely on the canvas and what she’s trying to convey. The only part Dana doesn’t do is squirting the paint out of the tube. Janet said Dana loves slapstick comedy — think Jerry Lewis or the Three Stooges — and would have paint all over her if it meant making someone else laugh.

“If it was up to Dana with the squeezing of the bottle, all those paints would be squeezed into the top of her head,” Janet said.


When Janet realized Dana’s talent, she started entering her in galleries and shows, immediately gaining accolades from art critics nationwide. One artist who had previously worked with Andy Warhol even wanted to purchase one of Dana’s paintings.

“We’ve had a lot of art critics tell me some of her stuff is museum worthy,” Janet said.

In the year Dana has been painting, she’s already had several shows, including one in Philadelphia and one at the Huntsville Botanical Garden. Dana is the first person with multiple disabilities to have her own exhibit in the state of Alabama.

“It’s a huge step for the special needs population to have somebody elevated to the level of any other professional artist that’s being considered and chosen to have their own exhibit,” Janet said.

Still, those terms — Down syndrome, challenged, autistic and even artist — don’t define her. Dana Anderson is a happy person who loves to make others smile, loves Disney, puzzles, music and Legos. She loves anyone and everyone — except, understandably, large groups of small, screaming children. We’re right there with you on that, Dana.

“This is the first time she’s proud of things that she’s doing,” Janet said.

We’re proud of you too, Dana.

Dana’s exhibit runs through April 30 at the Huntsville Botanical Garden.

The Huntsville Times

‘Wow. Those are amazing.’

Artist with multiple mental challenges gets

her own exhibit at Huntsville Botanical Garden

by Lee Roop


When people first hear Dana Anderson’s story and see one of her abstract landscapes, they often say politely, “Oh, nice.”

When they see a group or a series of slides of her paintings, the “Oh” usually gets longer. As in, “Ohhhh.” Frequently followed by, “Wow.” 

“Wow. Those are amazing,” was Carol Lambdin’s reaction. Lambdin is specialprojects director at the Huntsville Botanical Garden,

where Dana’s work is displayed through April 30 in the garden’s new Eloise McDonald Propst Guest Center.

Anderson is 25 and has Down syndrome and autism. She’s Alabama’s first multiply challenged artist to have her own exhibit like this.

Her family applied and was invited to join the garden’s series of local artists’ work.  Anderson paints at Inside Out Studio in Huntsville’s

Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment complex. She goes there once a week, sits down and chooses hersurfaces. They are typically board or







Dana Anderson, who has Down syndrome and autism, has sold $8,000 worth of paintings. The money from the paintings goes to Inside Out Studio,

where she crafts her art.


An aide lays out several tools and an array of colors. Dana points to the colors she wants and points to where she wants them. Putting a dab of color on the surface is the assistant’s only role. Anderson might start with a big brush. She may follow with a roller or sponge. She’ll

almost surely blend colors and paint over colors to create layers and depth. “What most painters struggle with is when to quit, professionals, too. They’ll want to add this little bit and that,” says Dana’s m other, Janet Anderson. “When Dana is done, she just says, ‘I’m finished’ and they set it aside and she starts on the next one.”  Sherry Broyles, who owns Inside Out Studio, has no doubt that Dana is creating art. You could

call it a fluke and not art, Broyles says, “maybe, if she just did one.” But Anderson doesn’t stop with one. She’ll do a half-dozen in a typical session, and Janet Anderson took 100 of Dana’s paintings to the opening reception of her show at the botanical garden. They are typically priced from $100-$350, and she has sold $8,000 worth. The money all goes to Inside Out Studio, which Broyles opened as “a creative space for the handi-capable.” The studio has been a success and, more importantly, a vehicle of expression for many people. But Anderson stands out.

Her work was featured in the January/February 2018 issue of Alabama magazine. She’s been accepted into the national ArtAbility show in Philadelphia. At least one Huntsville television station has done a feature on her work.  “We had no idea about Dana’s artist talent,” her mother said. “This just happened.”


The reception, the stories, the attention —all of it’s fun, but Janet Anderson said it isn’t the point. “It’s not that I want to be, ‘Look at Dana, look how important she is,’ because none of this matters to Dana. ...What matters to me as a mom is that she’s happy.”But the art gives Dana “a voice,” her mother said. And that’s something she does want people to know. “People with disabilities can do amazing things if they’re given the opportunity,” Janet Anderson said. “So, bring your children to Dana’s art exhibit. We need to expand minds. She’s not able to do this, this and this, but look what she can do.”

Copyright Friday, 03/30/2018 Pag.A01 © 2018 Alabama Live LLC. All Rights Reserved 3/30/2018



Her Voice

by Savannah Clay







This Inspiring Huntsville Native is finding her voice through art, using paint, brush, and canvas to express emotions and experiences that she is unable to articulate with words. The results are captivating.

Dana Anderson is a 25-year-old Huntsville resident who has Down syndrome and autism. Her developmental delays prevent her from being able to bathe or dress herself, brush her hair or teeth, read, write, or speak—but she can paint. Dana’s intellectual, physical, and emotional disabilities have prevented her from fully participating in many special needs community programs. Theater and musical opportunities are too noisy. Special needs dance organizations require a higher functioning level for learning routines. The programs are unable to fully integrate

those who cannot express themselves verbally. Creating art, instead, has offered Dana a chance for complete self expression and interaction, and has given her great self-esteem. She realizes what she is doing, the art she is creating, and she is genuinely proud of the work she produces.

All of Dana’s work is acrylic on canvas or board. Her paintings use the visual language of shape, form, color, and line to create an alternative

visual experience from visible reality. Instead of conspicuously or deliberately altering or representing a subject, Dana’s color, texture, line,

and form become the subject matter. Dana is an intuitive painter with exceptional instincts. She chooses her canvas, paint colors, brushes, and tools,

and she decides when a piece is finished. While you may find recognizable landscapes, more often,

Dana’s composition and color represent how she perceives things and how she feels about them. She uses broadly generalized brushstrokes with

smaller, articulate, accentuating strokes to create a natural blending of loud and soft hues. “Unlike a professional artist, Dana’s work is

her only voice,” says Dana’s mother, Janet Anderson. “Previously, as with many, she was denied access to the arts through the public school system

grades 6 through 12. The law states choir, band, art, etc., are electives and therefore these classes do not have to be offered to special education students to fulfill their opportunity to receive a quality education.” She remained in the public school system until age 21. Nothing in Huntsville existed to offer an alternative until April 2016, with the opening of the Inside Out Studio for adults with all disabilities. Dana has been at this studio for one year, and it has changed her life, with painting becoming a focus and a passion.


She may not be a trained professional artist, but Dana's passion and talent is evident in her work. Each piece's color, texture, and form speaks volumes to the viewer, and Dana determines exactly when a painting is finished.

Dana’s art is magical because she is prolific. While others may work on their pieces all week long, Dana does four to five pieces each time she

is in the studio, where she spends an hour and a half once or twice weekly. “How her disability impacts the way in which she creates is uncertain

since we can’t access her thought process,” says Janet. “But because her disabilities make her sensitive to crowds, noise, and chaos, she must

seek calm, quiet environments like the art studio.” There, her thoughts and feelings can be unleashed. She paints, paints over what she has just painted, and knows when to stop, signing to let someone know to take her work and set it aside. A very tactile person, Dana enjoys not just the colors

but the feel of the paint itself, and more often than not, she requires a good clean-up after each studio visit. Creating her paintings seems to free

Dana of the confines or restrictions of her disabilities.


Through Inside Out Studio, this prolific artist is achieving more than some artists ever will; often during a studio session she completes four or five paintings at a time.

Dana is emerging as a career artist. She recently won acceptance into ArtAbility’s National Exhibit in Philadelphia. Four of her pieces have

been honored for this show. She is receiving high acclaim and is in the process of entering other national exhibits along with neuro-typical

artists. She has already been spotlighted via the organization The Art of Autism, an international community, and will be featured again in

the spring, and will also have her own gallery art exhibit titled “Beyond Barriers” at the Huntsville Botanical Garden in March and April 2018.

This marks an important milestone, as Dana will be the country’s first-ever “low-functioning” or “most-challenged” artist to have her very own

art exhibit. Every painting that Dana sells will go to benefit Inside Out Studio in order to help enable  other adults with disabilities to endeavor

in the arts. “We owe them,” Janet says jokingly. “Dana uses a lot of canvasses and paint! Moreover, we are grateful for the opportunity and

experience this nonprofit offers and we want to see it thrive.”


You can follow Dana’s artistic journey via her Facebook page, and for more information on the Inside Out Studio, visit

  ALABAMA Magazine

The Art of Autism

Dana Anderson can't read,

write, or speak...yet she can

create great art.

Dually diagnosed with autism and Down syndrome, Dana Anderson has found her voice through art.

Dana Anderson is a 25-year-old emerging artist who paints with acrylics on canvas and boards. Instead of conspicuously or deliberately altering or representing a subject, Dana’s color, texture, line, and form become the subject matter. Dana is an intuitive and prolific painter. She creates her pieces within 20-30 minutes using broadly generalized brushstrokes with smaller, articulate, accentuating strokes.


Unlike any other professional artist, Dana’s work is her only voice. She has Down syndrome and autism. She cannot dress or bathe herself, brush her hair or teeth, she cannot read, write, or speak. Yet Dana can paint and has marvelous, often profound messages. She recently won acceptance for four pieces in ART/Ability’s national exhibition to be held in Philadelphia this November through January 2018. She is at the start of her career and will be one of the nation’s most challenged adults with disabilities to have her own exhibit, which will be in Huntsville, Alabama in March-April, 2018.

The law states persons with disabilities must be given a “quality education” which means electives do not count. Dana was denied access to art classes throughout her schooling grades 6-12. Her abilities were only recently discovered due to a new studio set up to offer adults with disabilities the opportunity to endeavor in the arts. Inside Out Studio is Alabama’s only specialized art studio where emerging artists are encouraged to develop and express their own artistic vision. It is a calm, welcoming space that Dana has enjoyed, and therefore, all the money from her paintings have been and will continue to benefit this amazing studio in order to allow others to participate for free.


Dana’s art will be on display at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital in Philadephia from November 5, 2017 – January 28, 2018. The exhibit is on display in the corridors of the hospital. The season kicks off with the opening night Preview Reception held at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital. Proceeds of the Art Ability opening receptions help support Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital patient and community programs.


Art gives artist with Down Syndrome
and Autism a voice
by Jerry Hayes      February 26, 2018

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Dana Anderson’s journey as an artist started with a blank canvas a year and a half ago. Her next stop is the Huntsville Botanical Garden for a fundraiser and exhibit called “Beyond Barriers.” We recently caught up with her at the Inside Out Studio at Lowe Mill. Executive Director Sherry Broyles was assisting Dana.

“Ok Dana. Let's get going,” she said while pulling a blank board from a storage bin. Sherry sat down next to Dana and asked, “Which color do you want?” Dana pointed at a tube of paint. “This one?” Sherry asked. “Okay.” Dana pointed to where she wanted the paint and Sherry squeezed it out onto the canvas.

The 25-year-old artist got into art by chance. “Basically, I brought her here to give her an activity,” Dana’s mother told me. Janet Anderson was looking for something her daughter could do and the studio was the perfect place. Inside Out is a studio for artists with special needs.

Dana has Down Syndrome and Autism. After a few visits, something clicked. “We noticed an emerging artist coming out.” Janet said. “The work she does is incredible here, raw talent.” That was a year and a half ago. Dana’s abstract works are museum-worthy. “She's very prolific,” Sherry said.

Dana paints several hours a week. “It's changed Dana's life,” her mother said. Her art gives her a voice. “Dana is more than non-verbal,” Janet said. “She's low functioning. She doesn't care for herself. She can't read, write or speak. And this endeavor in art really does become her voice for the community.” Sherry added, “There's many fascinating things about Dana as an artist, but one of the most fascinating has been watching her grow as an artist.”

That voice will be loud and clear when her work is displayed at the Huntsville Botanical Garden March 2 through April 30. “That in itself is a huge step for special needs population,” Janet said. “Dana will be the very first ever, most challenged artist in the state to have her very own art exhibit.”

It gives Dana a platform to help others like her. “We should expand the minds of our young people to see that given an opportunity, people with disabilities can do great things,” Janet said. “She's a perfect example of why special needs students should be allowed to participate in more of the arts.”

Dana has created more than 150 paintings so far. “She concentrates very deeply when she does a piece,” Sherry said. “But it doesn't take her long to do a finished wonderful piece of art.” 100 of those pieces will be sold to raise money for the studio which survives on grants and donations.

Janet smiled when she said, “You have a lot of artists that come in here and might come every single day and they work on the same piece and Dana comes once a week for 90 minutes to two hours and she'll go through six or eight pieces.” Dana will be helping those who have helped her.

“The most important thing to me is that she is so happy. And this is the first time I've seen her really proud of something,” Janet said. “It’s just a joy for me as a parent to see her finally have a voice.” Again, an invitation-only event will be held March 1. The next day, 20 pieces of Dana’s art will part of a public exhibit at the Botanical Garden until the end of April. Those will available for purchase. You can also follow Dana Anderson Art on her Facebook page.

Huntsville Botanical Garden

Art at the Garden

Dana Anderson
March 1st, 2018 – April 30th, 2018

Dana is a twenty-five-year-old with Down syndrome and autism. She does not bathe or dress herself, she cannot brush her hair or teeth, she does not read, write, or speak, yet she can paint museum-worthy art. A talent only recently discovered due to the Inside Out Studio at Lowe Mill, which offers art to adults with all disabilities for free. Like many special education students, Dana was denied art in the public school system grades 6-12. Painting, however, has become her voice in the world, and she is prolific at it, creating 4-6 acrylic pieces each time she is in the studio. She has painted over 150 canvasses within the past year. The sale of her art goes directly to the Inside Out Studio in order to enable others with disabilities to endeavor in the arts.
Dana was featured on the Art of Autism website which is an international community. She had four pieces accepted into ArtAbility’s annual national art exhibit in Philadelphia which runs November 5, 2017-January 22, 2018. She will be featured in the Alabama Magazine Jan/Feb 2018 issue. Her exhibit at HBG runs March 1- April 30 and will attract national media because she is the country’s first-ever “low-functioning” or “most-challenged” artist to have her own art gallery exhibit open to the public. Dana is becoming a hero of change, and her exhibit entitled “Beyond Barriers”, will provide a great example of how someone society normally overlooks, not only contributes to her community, but make a difference as well.

This art is available for purchase with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Garden. 
Information available in the Shoppe at the Garden

EVENT Magazine   

May/June Issue 2018

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