Imagine this scenario… you are driving along one day just going about your daily routine. Seemingly out of nowhere, a car turns directly in front of you. There is nothing you can do. You have a mere second to try and hit your breaks before impact. Now what?
Hopefully you will never experience anything like this in your lifetime. Or if you do, the trauma will be minimal. However, for too many people, car crashes, falls and other accidents change their lives forever. They are left with scars, both physical and emotional that can take years, if ever, to heal. For many of these people, their injuries include head and brain trauma that keep them from ever living the life they knew before the accident. Until recently, there were very few places that these people could turn to for assistance. However, just a couple of years ago, that all changed in Michigan. Enter Gallery U.
What exactly is Gallery U? Gallery U is an art gallery located in downtown Royal Oak near the corner of 4th and Washington. It is a brightly lit and inviting gallery that makes you feel good the minute you walk in the door. But more than that, Gallery U is a place of hope. Gallery U helps those people that have suffered from traumatic brain injuries.
In the early 1990’s, Universal Institute, Inc. started a workshop and a Gallery U in New Jersey for people that had suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The gallery allowed them to showcase pieces that they had created as well as to work and continue their recovery from their accident. Robert Greco, the Clinical Director, wanted to recreate what they had done in NJ here in Michigan. So, Universal searched around and found Therapeutic Rehabilitation Center in Livonia. They partnered up and started a workshop in Troy two years ago where 95% of the artwork is created. After finding the perfect location to display the work, the Royal Oak Gallery U was open for business at the Art, Beats & Eats Festival 2010.
Gallery U features paintings, drawings, woodworking, jewelry, soap, photography and more, all done by clients of Therapeutic Rehabilitation Center. Some of the clients come to work at Gallery U for a short time before they are able to return to their previous vocations. But often people with TBI’s are unable to return to their previous jobs. Gallery U provides for them the opportunity not only to display their creative side, but also to actually run the day-to-day workings of the gallery, developing other vocational skills as well.
As Susan Miller, Director of Marketing and Admissions for Universal Institute says, “These individuals have been through a horrible accident and their whole life has changed. There is a sense of hopelessness. Before this, there was no next level for them to blossom and come to their full potential. Now, with our help, they can go on to be a successful and productive citizen and truly can be happy.”
The purpose of Gallery U is to spread education and awareness of TBI’s to the community. For the clients, it is an integral part of their recovery. Ashley Cook, Vocational Rehab Tech, who oversees the clients, manages the art program and runs the gallery, feels that the uniqueness of Gallery U is one thing that sets them apart from other vocational rehab centers. “We deal with problem solving” she says. “The clients get to do things here that you would never see anywhere else”. It is this responsibility that allows the clients to build self esteem and higher level functioning skills that they normally may not be able to.
When speaking to Barb Hill, Vocational Director for Therapeutic Rehab Centers, she talked passionately about the clients they serve. “We provide a very natural environment” she said. “This is important because the clients don’t want to be labeled as only TBI. They like being able to say, ‘I work in an art gallery in Royal Oak’. It gives them a sense of self.”
Gallery U is open Monday thru Saturday from 12 pm – 5 pm. They also host monthly evening events, typically 6 pm – 9 pm that offer a variety of artworks matched to the nights’ theme as well as food and drinks. This is a chance for family, friends and the community to gather to see the amazing accomplishments the clients have achieved. Another important aspect of these events is that the clients handle all the preparation. From fliers to emailing to planning the menu and transportation, they do it all.
Gallery U is an inspirational place to visit. The sense of purpose to make a difference is felt in every aspect from the artwork to the people that you meet. Susan Miller puts it best; “We are here for one reason and that is to make people’s lives better”. Gallery U strives to accomplish this every day and they do a great job!
AMANDA BALA FOR IN THE D