During this holiday season I feel that it is especially important to thank our founding artist, Veronica Cuculich, for the inspiration she continues to give us and for the wonderful person she was.
It’s hard to believe that January 3rd will mark 12 years for our community and even harder to believe that Ronnie isn’t here to share in the success. If you are an old friend of the studio, you had the pleasure of meeting Ronnie. If you are a new friend and weren’t able to meet her, I want you to know the important role she had in creating The Arts of Life.
I was a young professional when I met Ronnie in 1994. I had worked in New York at a camp that supported many of the individuals who came out of Willowbrook, the much documented state institution, and was always amazed that anyone survived that type of environment. It was horrific for me to know that people that I worked with and cared about had been subject to such inhumane treatment in their lives. Ronnie was one of those people. She was taken from her family at a young age and lived in a children’s institution and later an adult nursing home that were both eventually closed for their barbaric treatment and inhumane conditions.
When I met her, she was living in a very nice house with roommates she liked and an agency that worked to support her. She was absolutely in love with John Winke, the man who she often declared, “saved me and gave me my own house, my own room.” At the age of 64, she finally felt safe and could start getting her life back. And once she knew people would listen, she never stopped talking!
She hated the traditional workshops. The staff that worked with her were nice people who tried very hard to make Ronnie enjoy her day. She had a wide variety of classes, activities, and jobs that she could choose from. Even though she had options, and even though everyone was nice, Ronnie did not have the opportunity to be artistic in her unique and exceptional way.
Once we recognized the importance of her creativity and the almost healing effect of expressing her creativity, we knew that she needed and deserved something more. We were young and innocent enough to think that we could get a few people together and create an artists’ community. And we did. We approached nine other people who were unhappy with their current day placement and began offering them a creative outlet when they arrived home. This outlet had the same impact on the others that it did with Ronnie. The creative process helped them resolve the anxiety that came with spending six hours somewhere that they didn’t enjoy. Using Ronnie’s leadership, we worked with these people and opened The Arts of Life together in 2000.
Ronnie would create art out of anything and everything. She would spend every cent of her money on music and basic art supplies. One of the first gifts I ever received from her was a Shrinky Dink necklace that she made “Just for you. Yeah! You’ll love it”, she said as she put it on my neck, “It’s perfect!” This quickly became one of her many endearing phrases and it’s true, it was perfect. Everything she touched was perfect. We are still finding pieces of art that she created and tucked away somewhere to finish later. In her tenure at the studio, she created over a thousand pieces of artwork and each one was beautiful. She also joined the band and had the time of her life performing on stage with Ryan. “I’m a rock star, yep, like Johnny Cash” she once told me after a performance at Reversible Eye. And, to me, she was just that type of creative force that we needed to continue to nurture, but also listen to and learn from.
Veronica “Ronnie” “Grandma” Cuculich 1930-2010
Granny, as she was known by her fellow studio members, was loved by everyone. Not because she was the founder, but because she was true to herself and that type of honesty is always inspiring. It’s hard to explain how it feels to have her live on through our program and the people she has impacted over the ten years she lead the way. I have always felt blessed that she was such an important part of my life, but I feel even more blessed to know that she will live on through our community.
Executive Director The Arts of Life, Inc
If you have already donated, thank you for your continued support.