With her throaty voice, platinum blonde tresses, porcelain complexion and high cheekbones, Cathy Moriarty exudes a movie star presence as she walks through the door of Galerie BelAge in Westhampton Beach on a glorious spring day.
The actress—who was nominated for an Academy Award for her starring role opposite Robert DeNiro in the 1980 film “Raging Bull”—warmly greets the gallery’s director, Robert Deets, filmmaker Frank Cento, and artist Candyce Brokaw and gets right down to business.
Ms. Moriarty is not interested in talking about her latest acting projects nor her nearly 30-year career as a Hollywood actress. No, on this day—and on most days—Ms. Moriarty would rather talk about a topic close to her heart: why it’s so important to help people with developmental disabilities, especially children, reach their full potential.
“I believe that everybody was put here for a reason. And everybody—whether it’s a child with autism, a survivor of trauma or abuse, or someone living with a physical disability—has something to offer and deserves a chance,” she says. “Sometimes all it takes is someone else who truly believes in and sees the light shining within them to make a world of difference.”
These days, Ms. Moriarty regularly speaks at schools and works one-on-one with autistic children and their parents on behalf of such organizations as the Darryl Strawberry Foundation.
“I prefer the hands-on work to all the black tie stuff,” admits Ms. Moriarty, who serves as the national spokesperson for Autism United. Locally, she is spokesperson for the Long Island-based organizations DDI (Developmental Disabilities Institute) and IGHL (Independent Group Home Living, Inc.).
On Sunday, June 22, the actress will moderate a “Surviving and Thriving” educational symposium at Galerie BelAge, designed to raise public awareness about the needs of disabled youth and adults. Panelists from several non-profit organizations will be on hand from 1 to 3 p.m. to discuss the services they provide, and answer questions from attendees.
Free and open to the public, the symposium ties in with the gallery’s current exhibition, “Breaking the Walls of Bias: Art by Survivors,” which was curated by Mr. Deets and Ms. Brokaw. On view through July 1, the exhibition is presented by the not-for-profit Survivors Art Foundation, an organization which Ms. Brokaw, the executive director, founded 11 years ago.
“Breaking the Walls of Bias: Art by Survivors” features art by individuals who have found their way out of life’s darkest moments, she says. They include children and young adults with autism spectrum disorders, Holocaust survivors, Guatemalan torture victims, cancer and AIDS survivors, and children from Kosovo and Bosnia whose artwork transcends the divides of a civil war.
Ms. Brokaw, who lives in Quogue, formed the Survivors Art Foundation as a way for disability and trauma survivors to heal through the visual, literary and performing arts. As a teenager, Ms. Brokaw was raped and sexually abused and suffered from those scarring memories until the mid-1990s, when she embraced art as a therapeutic way to deal with her inner rage and pain.
“We are who we are because of our histories, and if our experiences are traumatic, they will be reflected in the art we make,” she says.
Originally launched as an internet-based art gallery for other trauma survivors, the Survivors Art Foundation web site quickly took off, attracting work by emerging and well-known artists from 47 states and 13 countries. Five years later, the group mounted its first major exhibition at Hofstra University and since then has spread its net with shows and outreach projects at conferences, the United Nations, and the Lilith Fair concert tours.
Now, with the help of Mr. Deets, Ms. Brokaw has brought the works of many of the artists from the Hofstra exhibition back to the East End, with additions by new artists. On view are more than 100 paintings, sculpture, multimedia and video works by artists from every age and social circumstance, some hailing from as far away as The Netherlands, Canada, Brazil and Guatemala. In addition to Ms. Brokaw, local participants include David Joel of East Hampton and Bennett Blackburn of Cutchogue.
The show features artwork by children from Kosovo and Bosnia, and orphaned Vietnamese children who have been rescued from human trafficking and are now learning to paint.
“We also have a few children of Holocaust survivors in the show, and one of the artists, Hedy Page, is illustrating a book dealing with children and disabilities, so I began thinking that the focus for the symposium should be about children,” said Ms. Brokaw, who shared her thoughts with Frank Cento, a Westhampton-based producer/director/editor who is currently filming a documentary about the Survivors Art Foundation.
Hearing about Ms. Page’s book and the children’s art made Mr. Cento think of Ms. Moriarty, whom he has known since their early days at the Actor’s Studio in New York.