after purgatory installation
“After Purgatory?” presents the individual and shared experiences of six Claraty artists in today’s disability services system. Through photographic collages the artists recreated a single time or place among many, when they experienced the isolation and loneliness similar to that evoked in Burton Blatt’s and Fred Kaplan’s seminal 1966 photo essay on institutionalization, Christmas in Purgatory.

These introspective arrangements are joined by startlingly revealing portraits of the artists, an homage to Kaplan’s clandestine photographs. The portraits float, isolated from, yet bound to, their scenery, creating a collaboration that examines and describes the modern realities of disabled people. People who, despite being inarguably better off than their institutionalized ancestors, still feel the subtle but dehumanizing isolation of purgatory.
View the full Christmas in Purgatory pdf
after purgatory installation - part time job

show/hide text

I feel like they do it on purpose. Like, the staff here at Claraty, they talk to each other, but it’s different. And, the employees there, like they talk to each other, but they don’t talk to me, not even a peep. They just ignore me and it pisses me off. And they know I’m different, that I have a disability because I have a job coach there. I don’t do the normal stuff that they do, because I haven’t gotten trained properly. I personally think it’s because I’m disabled, and it’s like they think, “Why should we be close to that disabled girl, we’re like the cool, pretty people.”

One time there was a fire truck and ambulance outside and I asked my boss, I said, “Louie, why is there an ambulance and a fire truck outside, did something happen?” And he just said, “Nothing.” And then, I asked one of the assistant managers, who’s more cool to me, and she said, “Oh, a lady fell in the bathroom.” It wasn’t so hard to just tell me what happened, so I could be included. When he said, “Nothing” to me, it was like he couldn’t be bothered to talk to me, or I couldn’t handle it or something. He wasn’t even doing anything, just sitting there, but couldn’t take a second to just talk to me. Let’s not talk to the disabled girl.

Or, the other employees are always on their cell phones, texting or whatever. But if I’m standing there because there’s nothing I can do, and I’m waiting for something that I can do, then he’s like, “Hey, what are you doing?” When I tell him I’m waiting for something to do, he gets mad, like he’s impatient with me. He says, “Why don’t you just clean the posters or something.” While everyone else is just sitting around doing nothing, but I have to do that kind of stuff because no one else wants to do it and they can do other stuff that I’m not allowed to do. I feel like a doormat there.

Nellie's Last Act
Nellie’s Last Act views California’s dark history of the institutionalization of developmentally disabled men, women and children as a backdrop to celebrate the life of one inspiring survivor. The exhibition celebrates Claraty Arts’ first public mural, which tells the story of Nell Claraty, the studio’s namesake and muse. This celebration is juxtaposed with a sobering look at a 70 year history of California’s system of institutionalization, a history that is the backdrop for much of Nell’s life story.
View the 4 page pdf

Nellie's Last Act - mural of Nell Claraty Nellie's Last Act - mural of Nell Claraty

click to view/hide posters
1884 installation poster

The Sonoma State Home is founded as a state hospital to help educate mentally disabled children. With the rise of the eugenics movement, Sonoma eventually become a worldwide model for institutional sterilization and patient testing.

1917 installation poster

The scope of US sterilization law is expanded to include specific references to Sonoma State Home and another California institution called The Pacific Colony, allowing the institutions’ board of trustees to grant permission to sterilize inmates against their will.

1927 installation poster

F.O. Butler is appointed superintendent of Sonoma State Home. Butler believed sterilization benefited disabled individuals and society, and himself estimated to have performed at least 1000 sterilizations throughout his career.

In 1918 Nell Claraty is born.

1935 installation poster

The Los Angeles Times begins its “Social Eugenics” Column which runs until 1941, promoting the social and economic benefits of compulsory sterilization. In a 1937 Fortune Magazine survey, 66% of people approved of forced sterilization. During this time, eugenics is integrated into the science curriculum of California public schools.

In 1935, Nell Claraty is eighteen years old.

1955 installation poster

By 1955, state institutions in the US house over half a million patients, the largest of which houses over 20,000 patients. Overcrowding is rampant, with as many as 100 patients sharing a single bedroom, sleeping on floors, or in hallways.

In 1955 Nell Claraty is thirty seven.

Between 1955 and 1960, 1,100 (known) cerebral palsy patients at Sonoma State institution are involved without consent in medical studies that include having air injected into their brains before a series of x-rays, being given irradiated milk, and spinal taps. The brain of every child with cerebral palsy who dies at Sonoma State Institution is removed and studied without parental consent.

In 1960 Nell Claraty is forty two.

1960 installation poster

“Normalization” is developed in Scandinavia by Bengt Nirje, and later developed by Wolf Wolfensberger in the US. Normalization involves the accepting of people with disabilities and offering them the same normal conditions of life as are offered to other citizens. This concept provides much of the foundation for what will eventually become “Supported Living Services” in California.

In 1960 Nell Claraty is forty two.

1963 installation poster

President John F. Kennedy signs the Community Mental Health Act, providing $150 million to establish smaller mental health centers, and encourage community-based care to replace institutions. Unfortunately, many communities do not have adequate facilities or knowledge to handle individuals released from institutions, resulting in widespread systematic abuse by staff and a culture of “those people”.

In 1963 Nell Claraty is forty five.

1965 installation poster

Robert Kennedy takes a tour of the Willowbrook facility in New York and is appalled by the squalor and staff-treatment of patients, calling it a “snake pit”. Kennedy calls for a series of improvements for the facility, which don’t happen for almost a decade.

In 1965 Nell Claraty is forty seven.

1966 installation poster

“Christmas in Purgatory,” a photographic expose on America’s institutions by Burton Blatt is released. His essays and hidden camera photographs show the deplorable conditions in several east coast institutions and leads to a greater public outcry, as the photos greatly resembled concentration camp images that were being exposed at the time. Referring to the institutions, the book opens with the line, “There is hell on earth, and in America there is a special inferno.” In 1967, Look Magazine publishes a version of the expose in an article entitled “The Tragedy and Hope of Retarted Children”, bringing even greater public attention to the conditions in American insitutions. The article begins, “These children do not have to be locked up in human warehouses. Yet, to our shame, this is where we put them—in back wards, without compassion, without even basic care”.

In 1966 Nell Claraty is forty eight.

1972 installation poster

Investigative reporters including Geraldo Rivera, expose the filth, overcrowding, physical and sexual abuse, and inhumane treatment of individuals at Willowbrook. Rivera’s report, “Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace” gains national attention and wins the Peabody Award. A class-action suit is filed against the state of New York regarding the conditions at Willowbrook, and a settlement is reached mandating reforms of the site. Several years pass before the violations are corrected.

In 1972 Nell Claraty is fifty five.

1977 installation poster

By 1977, thanks largely to public outcry over the published conditions in US institutions, the collective population of institutions has been reduced from over 550,000 to 160,000 patients.

In 1977 Nell Claraty is sixty.

1981 installation poster

The Halderman v. Pennhurst State lawsuit is filed against the Pennhurst State hospital for the cruel treatment of individuals and directly results in its closure. The closure comes 13 years after the groundbbreaking NBC expose by Bill Baldini, “Suffer The Little Children: A Peek into the History of Eugenics and Child Abuse by the State – Pennsylvania Penhurst: which led Penhurst to be called, “The shame of the nation”.

In 1981 Nell Claraty is sixty four.

1983 installation poster

New York State declares it is closing Willowbrook state institution. Nine employees from Penhurst State Hospital are indicted on charges ranging from beating residents to arranging patients to assault and fight each other.

In 1983 Nell Claraty is sixty six.

1990 installation poster

The Americans with Disabilities Act is passed, prohibiting the discrimination of persons based on any disability. In 1990 Nell Claraty is seventy three.

In 1990 Nell Claraty is seventy three.

1997 installation poster

A 57-minute documentary titled Unforgotten: 25 Years After Willowbrook is released. The film is a follow-up that centers on three former residents of Willowbrook, focused on the after-affects of institutions and how their lives have improved since being released. The film is a blunt plea for the humane treatment of people with disabilities, and warns, “Remembrance is a vital key to the prevention of future abuse.” In 1997 seven state institutions remain open in California. Five of these are still open today, including Sonoma.

In 1997 Nell Claraty is seventy nine years old, and for the first time in her life, moves into her own home. Nell lived seven happy years in Santa Cruz before passing away in 2004. After 70 years in an institution, Nell proved that it is never too late, redefining herself as the colorful, vibrant, charismatic woman whose courage and conviction inspire us today.

face it logo
Face it! presents a look at the historically ignored and dismissed identity and social dynamics of people with disabilities. This collaborative installation displays 100 portraits from the studio collective, framed in a startling backdrop of statistics related to the lives of this minority group and their predecessors.
closeup detail of an individual face from the installation closeup detail of an individual face from the installation closeup detail of an individual face from the installation closeup detail of an individual face from the installation closeup detail of an individual face from the installation closeup detail of an individual face from the installation
face it installation
90% - of adults with developmental disabilities have income below the poverty level.

80% - of disabled men, women, & children were imprisioned in state institutions, by the 1950’s.

92% - of pregnancies in the US & Europe with a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome, are terminated.

32% - of men with developmental disabilities have been sexually abused. (50% of those have been victimized 10 or more times)

83% - of women with developmental disabilities have been sexually abused. (50% of those have been victimized 10 or more times)

transparent overlay