Artist Gordon Vales, Arc of Spokane Stimulated Mental Health Discussion
Humanities Washington is celebrating our 40th anniversary with 40 Years of Washington Stories. Each week on Spark, we’ll offer a snapshot from our past, sharing forty years of stories that have helped shape the humanities in Washington state.
In 1973, artist Gordon Vales left the mental institution he had moved into twenty years prior and began supporting himself by selling his torn-paper silhouettes. According to an article published by the Spokane Daily Chronicle in 1980, Vales worked in parks and at shopping centers around Spokane, selling custom hand-torn silhouettes for $1.05.
Vales was the subject of a 1980 documentary, supported by Humanities Washington, on living with disability. At the time, it was still relatively rare for a person with disabilities to be living independently. The co-sponsoring organization was the Arc of Spokane, which works to ensure a high quality of life for mentally and developmentally disabled people. In addition to managing the production of the film, the Arc used Vales’ story as a catalyst for a series of public discussions on the attitudes surrounding disabled citizens in the Spokane area.
The Arc’s film celebrated Vales and his work, but it also provided a focal point for the exploration of attitudes toward mental health in and around the city of Spokane. The Arc is still in operation today, providing support and advocating for disabled citizens and those who live with them.