When you talk at any length with Mary Pendergast, executive director and co-founder of Anodyne Artist Center, you quickly realize that she has a passion for supporting everyone’s creative and artistic endeavors, whether or not they have disabilities. “We define ourselves by our commonalities, not our differences,” Pendergast says.
Pendergast, along with her husband, Joseph Pendergast, and Howard Miller, founded Anodyne 10 years ago as a place where disabled people would have more choices than bingo and television for daily activities. Anodyne gives those with physical and mental disabilities an opportunity to access the arts and possibly to make money with their skills.
The deceptively large space on Carleton Street one block east of Raymond Avenue in south St. Anthony Park is home to a theater company (with stage and seating), recording studio, an artists’ workshop, a large gallery in which the artists can show and sell their work, and a pottery studio. Those in the adult day care (and also adults without disabilities) may receive instruction and support for acting, painting, sculpture, pottery, ceramics, written and spoken word, movement and dance, and stage management.
Pendergast has been working in this field for more than 25 years, first in her native Duluth, where she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree, and then in St. Paul. She is a singer, dancer and actor and has been performing as such for more than 50 years. Joseph Pendergast is an artist—with a disability—specializing in pottery and ceramics, and co-founder Howard Miller has a doctorate in educational psychology. The facility is licensed and contracted with Ramsey County as an adult day program and is currently accessed by 75 artists.
This year, Anodyne’s program will be evolving to include a heritage arts program and a program for seniors. The company is planning a visual arts show called “Convictions,” which will address how to make safe decisions. There is an established artist program where nondisabled people can come in and work with associate artists who share their knowledge and foster an inclusive community where everyone gets beyond disabilities and focuses on art.
The instructors get support in understanding disabilities, a safe working environment and support for one project of their own each year. Mary Pendergast, who works collaboratively with both teachers and students, sees herself as a facilitator for growth. Ideally, Pendergast says she would like to someday leave the company, but she wants to ensure the organization is in great shape to carry on without her.
Anodyne’s theater company offers at least three productions each year. Currently, the company is working on Divine Feminine, a work comprised of music, dance, video and spoken word that will be presented in September. A holiday show, Traditions, is scheduled for November. On the third Thursday of the month, Dean Johnson hosts Random Acts, where new and established artists may try out new material in poetry, music comedy, dance, spoken word, improvisation and performance art. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the shows begin at 7:30 p.m. There is a charge of $5 (or $4 with a food-shelf donation) and performers must call ahead to get on the schedule.
As is true for all nonprofit organizations, Anodyne is looking for donations and volunteers. Each year, Anodyne artists make bowls and volunteers make soup to sell together at the fall fundraiser, “Get your soup on.” To find out more about volunteering, contact Pendergast at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 651-642-1684. Donations can be made through Razoo.com/story/Anodyne-Artist-Company (or by mailing a check to Anodyne Artist Center, 825 Carleton St., St. Paul, MN 55114.
Photos by Lori Hamilton
Michelle Christianson is a piano teacher, musician, writer and frequent contributor to the Park Bugle.