Student Art at KickstART Gallery Features Artwork by Students from Visions Unlimited

In March, KickstART Farmington launched a new program at the KickstART Gallery & Shop exhibiting the work of students from the Farmington/Hills community. This initiative is coordinated by Katy Baracco in collaboration with the art teachers in our schools.

The first two months have been focused on showcasing the artwork of students from Visions Unlimited and Lisa Wiltrakis, a special education teacher and art teacher at the school answered some questions for us about their program.

Tell us about the students at Visions Unlimited and the services you provide to them.

Visions Unlimited is an Adult Transition program operated by Farmington Public Schools. Visions serves adults ages 18 through 26 years of age who have physical and/or developmental disabilities and students on the autism spectrum. Students are assigned to Visions Unlimited through the special education Individualized Educational Planning Team (IEPT) process and are residents of Farmington and Farmington Hills. The Visions staff is dedicated to ensuring that each student reaches their potential as a contributing citizen, productive worker, and community participant. Each student has individual goals for improving independent living and employability skills. Through classroom and community-based instruction, these goals are achieved.

Visions students participate in a variety of programs including Bountiful Backpacks (provides food to students in Title 1 schools) PEAC (Programs to Educate all Cyclists), Smart Bus training, and Book Club with the local Farmington Public Library. These programs offer exposure for community outreach and teach strategies for independent living. Daily enrichment classes are part of the Visions Unlimited curriculum. These classes focus on leisure activities and physical fitness. Current enrichment classes include Fitness, Yoga, Cardio Drumming, Fine Arts, Sports, Cooperative Games and Music. Students look forward to these classes which occur during the last hour of the school day. All the Visions students participate in work-based learning both on campus and in the community. Students learn and practice Universal Work Skills. These skills are very important in attaining and maintaining a job. Some of the on-campus work-based learning jobs include Food Prep, Visions Vocations, MicroEnterprise and Bountiful Backpacks. Off campus worksites include Busch’s grocery store, Costick Center, Hillside Elementary School, Farmington Library, Holiday Inn Hotel, the Farmington Hawk Center, Holy Family Church, and Central Office/Ten Mile. All Visions students participate in the PAES/Micro-Enterprise class. PAES (Practical Assessment Exploration System) PAES is a hands-on program that has multi-steps. Students practice universal work skills.


The students learn:

•Entry level skills in multiple career/work areas

•Follow work procedures

•Appropriate work behaviors

•Problem solving skills

Our Production shop is a Micro-Enterprise operation, set up to provide the students with work-related experiences. This environment exposes students to real-life work situations. They learn how to follow multi-step directions, build stamina, increase dexterity, problem-solve, track finances, and so much more. We are committed to upcycle, recycle, and reuse whenever we can. 


Art offers a creative (and enjoyable) way to communicate without restrictions, without worries of being judged as there is no such thing as failing when you create art.

What kinds of artistic opportunities do you engage the students with?

Every student gets to choose an enrichment activity including music, art, fitness, technology, yoga, cooperative games, and cardio drumming. In our Art class at Visions, the students learn about various famous artists and their techniques and what inspired them. They learn about the basic elements of art and create individual artwork using a variety of mixed media based on the theme of the project. Themes have included impressionism, mosaicism, pop art, surrealism, pointillism, and two-dimensional art to name a few. 

In the Visions Microenterprise Shop students assist in the creation of projects that include designing and producing greeting cards. This is a multi-step project that includes mixing colors and other materials to create papier fait – which is their own paper. Their ideas and artistic eye become products to sell.  As a staff we try to use other students to critique and question ideas, so they are collaborating with minimal staff input.  

Why do you find it important for the students to engage with art?

Art promotes freedom of creative expression, which helps students to relax and think differently. Art offers an opportunity for self-expression. Art can be a way to communicate for our young adults who find it hard to express their thoughts and feelings verbally. Art offers a creative (and enjoyable) way to communicate without restrictions, without worries of being judged as there is no such thing as failing when you create art. This process gives them a sense of accomplishment and builds their self-confidence. Art is very calming and uninhibiting, and there is no “wrong” when it comes to art. We get to see a side of our students that we normally may not never have ever known existed. As Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life” 

How can people learn more about your programs and support your work?

People can learn more about Visions Unlimited by going to the Farmington Public Schools website:

Art by students at Visions Unlimited will be on display through April and art by students from the community will continue to be exhibited through the year.

This exhibition (and those to follow) was made possible by Benjamin R. Sweeney who left a legacy of love, support, and awareness, a man who had a passion for life and a deep love for family. Ben took great pride in watching his grandson Christopher thrive in the SXI program at Visions Unlimited. 

Never being able to meet future students in this program, Ben wanted others to have the ability to thrive the way his grandson did. 

Part of Ben’s legacy is to show what these SXI individuals “CAN” do and share their successes with you.

Liberating & Uplifting Self-Expression: Photography by RJ Jones

Our new exhibition of figurative and portrait photography by RJ Jones is now on view at the KickstART gallery through May 28th.

Join us on Thursday, April 21st, from 5-8 pm for a reception with the artist.

Artist’s Statement

No one’s “art,” however rare, popular, intricate, or eccentric, is for everyone. Therefore, I do not wish to imply that my photographic art is or might be liberating and uplifting to whoever views or experiences it. Rather, I wish to convey the idea that my photographic art is, first and foremost, liberating and uplifting to me because it’s helping me to slowly but steadily break the psychosociological chains of convention and conformity that, given my fundamentalist Christian upbringing, still so easily bind and beset me to this very day.

In other words, ever since I dared to fully embrace my passion for and obsession with photography in 2018, I’ve found nearly every studio session and image-making moment to be a profoundly therapeutic and self-authenticating moment for me, if no one else. Whether anyone deems one of my photographs to be beautiful, acceptable, or a “work of art” in any sense of the word, it remains not just a work of my spirit—i.e., self-expression in a general or generic sense—but more so a work on my spirit.

Naturally, whenever I collaborate with human subjects, my purpose isn’t just to make noteworthy images but to make a noteworthy impression on the people themselves. Indeed, my clear and central objective is to always so value and love on my human subjects as to encourage and inspire them to also express themselves in ways that are refreshingly liberating and uplifting to them, if not me or anyone else.

My wife, Cheryl Carvery-Jones, who’s truly the phenomenal woman of my dreams, is just as dedicated to being a positive presence in the lives of others. Moreover, she’s not only my ever-present muse and photography assistant, but her emotional and logistical support are essential elements to me manifesting my own photographic visions. Indeed, Michelle’s alopecia story is just one example of the many times that we have so synergized with another creative as to transform a mere photoshoot into “a courageous Yes! to one’s own being.”


Technically RJ Jones is a great photographer. But it is his passion, willingness, and ability to seek and discover beyond what his subjects initially are able to  offer as self … He speaks to, and captures the emotions that many of us refrain from revealing. There is a beautiful duplicity in his photos that are at once of a comfortable resolve, and of a gentle confrontation with self that is shared with the observer.  

In this way RJ Jones has become the essence of a true and successful artist. – KickstART Gallery Curator Ted Hadfield

Farmington Art Foundation Exhibits Art by Members at KickstART

Through May, members of the Farmington Art Foundation will exhibit work at the KickstART Gallery & Shop. New work will rotate in each month so be sure to stop by regularly.

Ken Thompson: Recent Work at KickstART Gallery

Sculptural work by Ken Thompson is on view now through April 9th, 2022 at the KickstART Gallery & Shop in downtown Farmington.

Join us for a reception with the artist on Thursday evening, March 3rd, from 5 – 8 pm.

I have always had a fascination with buildings and bridges, as well as the columns, posts, beams and arches that support them.

Ken Thompson received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting/Printmaking from Siena Heights College and studied sculpture for several years, earning a master’s degree from the University of Toledo. His work has been exhibited widely and his public sculptures are on view across the Midwest, including currently in Riley Park in downtown Farmington.

Learn more about his work at and

“I have always had a fascination with buildings and bridges, as well as the columns, posts, beams and arches that support them. I come to this world from a tradition of craftsmanship. I prefer to use materials that convey strength. I have always felt that good art should be well made and that there is no excuse for poor craftsmanship.

I see each sculpture as a ‘clean sheet of paper’ that presents new opportunities to discover solutions. Beyond content and suitability, my sculpture concentrates on the fundamental issues of form and how negative space defines it, as well as the techniques employed to create it.” — Ken Thompson

Five Ways the Arts Contribute to a Strong Community

At KickstART Farmington our aim has always been to build community through the arts and to support a vibrant and thriving arts scene in the Farmington/Hills community.

Over the years, our events and activities have been developed with this purpose in mind, from the Gratitude Photo Project at Art on the Grand, to the Greater Farmington Film Festival, our ONE: Two Cities, One Community project, and the opening of the KickstART Gallery & Shop.  

All of this can sound lofty but in practical terms what does it mean to build community through the arts?

Let us consider five ways the arts support community building.  

The arts add beauty and joy to the lives of community members. Engaging in the arts, whether through purchasing and displaying a piece of art in our home or attending a musical performance can be enjoyable experiences, bringing some beauty into our homes and lives, while watching a funny movie or play brings much needed humor and laughter to our often too-serious lives.

The arts inspire us to look more closely at the world around us and to recognize the splendor we often take for granted and as the great writer Dostoevsky noted, “beauty will save the world.”  

The arts improve the health of the community. “The only time I feel alive is when I’m painting,” said Vincent Van Gogh, and the arts, as research has shown, can reduce stress, lift our spirits, serve as an antidote to loneliness and depression, enhance cognitive abilities and memory, and as noted above, offer the healing power of laughter.

London. October 2018. A view of colourful street crossing by transport for London in Southwark in London

The arts remind a community of its history. Our involvement in the arts can contribute to the understanding of a community’s past through historical depictions on public art and murals, the architecture of a city, historical museums, or reenactments, to parades and annual festivals.

We are fortunate to have the Zekelman Holocaust Center in our community, reminding us of the Holocaust and our role in promoting human rights and standing up against hatred and intolerance.

Mural by John Martin

The arts contribute to the economy of a community. In Michigan alone, the arts contribute around $14B to the state’s economy, more than many other industries, including transportation. The arts also employ nearly 80,000 workers and almost a quarter of these are in Oakland County.

In our community there are several dozen arts organizations and creative businesses, in addition to the Cultural Arts Division in Farmington Hills, contributing to the vibrancy of the arts scene in Farmington and the Hills.  

The arts bring people together. Yes, of course, the arts bring people together physically, whether in downtown Farmington for Art on the Grand, a reception at the KickstART Gallery for an arts exhibition, a concert at Riley Park or Heritage Park, a film at the Farmington Civic Theater, or a performance by the Farmington Players at the Barn.

But the arts also brings people together emotionally and strengthens relationships as viewers or audience members gather for a conversation over a drink following a film, theatrical or musical performance, or after viewing an art exhibition.

The arts play an important role in community building and together we can contribute to a community that recognizes the beauty in our diversity, promotes joy and good health, understands its history and the responsibilities that brings, and is equitably and economically sustainable.

Will you join us in building community through the arts?

Elegance in Black & White

The KickstART Gallery is pleased to host an exhibition of archival photos of DDCdances, taken by photographer Tom Kramer. The photos will be on view in our secondary gallery through February 19th.

In the video below, produced by students at St. Petersburg College for WEDU Arts Plus and PBS, photographer Tom Kramer talks about his work with dancers to create photographs that capture the art of their motion.