• The “Ideas Team” at Cherry Road: Day Centers, Cognitive Disability, and Reimagining the Art Therapy Encounter
    Sara Hendren

"Sensory Workshop," 2021. Immersive environment made of lights, streamers, and textiles. Courtesy Artlink

This research takes the reader inside an overlooked civic architectural site—the “day center,” a global typology that serves as a hybrid work-school for adults with significant cognitive disabilities. It profiles and contextualizes the “Ideas Team” at a day center called Cherry Road outside Edinburgh—an art therapy program for adults with cognitive disabilities that radically inverts the standard therapeutic paradigm. At Cherry Road, professional artists are paired with disabled adults in a distinctive and egalitarian partnership for research: seeking mutually interesting sensory experiences and exploration, and producing artifacts, audioscapes, environments and more, often without any verbal communication. Whereas “therapeutic” arts practices are typically framed as one-directional, rehabilitative encounters that travel from expert to student, the Ideas Team upends this model, taking seriously the lively interior worlds and intelligence of all people, regardless of apparent capacity.

Sara Hendren is a humanist in tech—an artist, design researcher, writer, and professor at Olin College of Engineering. Her book What Can A Body Do? How We Meet the Built World (Riverhead, 2020) explores the places where disability shows up in design, an inventive tradition of remaking our everyday tools and environments that also carries the highest human stakes. It was named a best book of 2020 by NPR, was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award in nonfiction, and won the Science in Society Journalism book prize. Her work has been widely exhibited in museum exhibitions and is held in the permanent collections at The Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper Hewitt. She is currently lecturer in architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a fellow in Education Policy at the New America think tank, where she is researching the future of work, broadly conceived, for adults with cognitive disabilities.