Art Inspires Hope
Letting Go But Not Giving Up
Mia White McNary
It was a profound moment when Mia White McNary's son Colin sang the last line of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" with his own voice.
Colin is nonverbal and uses a computer to communicate due to his Autism and Aprixia disorder. But the moment brought her hope.
And the Carnegie Mellon University School of Art alumna is spreading that hope to other parents of children with special needs — through the art classes she teaches in her "Masters in Art" studio in suburban Chicago.
"I think as an artist, it's my job to inspire people," said McNary (A'88), who has three children with her husband, Tim, of 15 years. "I really feel that as a creative person who's had really big challenges in my life, I've been able to use my CMU training to inspire others."
McNary knows firsthand that the creative process is deeply therapeutic and her classes allow parents to express their feelings without judgment.
"The experience of raising a child with special needs is unique to each person, and art is a great way to release emotions that might be trapped inside or not clearly understood," she explained.
Her studio is also a place where typical kids and adults learn the process of using different media and work on their creative intent. She started classes in her studio with one student, and the program quickly grew to 70.
Drawing and painting are McNary's passion and she quickly learned they were also her route to coping with having to send her son to a facility where he can be best cared for.
One painting in particular was never meant to be seen by anyone. A friend who was helping McNary carry pieces of her artwork out to a show discovered a painting that showed a fractured child.
"There were actually a whole series of those paintings I had no interest for anyone to see," said McNary of the piece, titled Letting Go But Not Giving Up. "It really was the one that pulls everything together. It was about me letting go but not giving up, and the transition of learning to live apart from Colin."
While McNary still feels the piece is unfinished, someone bought it from her in New York.
"I've always believed that if you follow your passion, the point where your passion and your experience criss-cross is where you find the most success."
McNary is proud of being a graduate of CMU.
"The most defining moments in your life are how you handle what's thrown at you," said McNary. "At CMU, I worked my butt off. But when I graduated and went to work in advertising, I knew they could throw anything at me and I could come up with a solution. Those long, hard hours at CMU gave you that confidence."
"When parents have kids with challenges, there are very few hours in the day when they can sit back and take a deep breath. But there are moments," she said.
And her art is the beginning of connecting to those moments — for her and others.
"We all have challenges. But you can decide on how you attack them," she explained. "I think people get out of whack, and art helps them to find their balance again."
She added, "It's so wonderful to do what you love to do, and to share your story and give people hope. I'm learning things I never even knew I was capable of doing."