Show and sell

U of M art exhibit promotes artists with disabilities

Tired of the drab walls of your place of employment? Turn it into an art gallery. That’s what folks did at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota. They even went one step farther-they’re showing art created by people with disabilities in a year-long project titled “Changing Landscapes: The Visiting Artists with Disabilities Project.” The project features rotating exhibits of work by artists from three community organizations: Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts, Partnership Resources, Inc., and Courage Center . In the current exhibit, the second in the series of three, the featured artists are all from Partnership Resources, Inc. (PRI). The four-month show at Pattee Hall was kicked off with a grand opening last month. Many of the artists were on hand to show-and talk about-their work. Considering the fabulous diversity of styles and powerful images, it quickly became clear to the visitor that these folks were not recipients of charity; the reality is just the opposite. They’re making the world a better, more beautiful place-and making money at the same time.

Each of the artists featured receives art instruction and studio space at one of PRI’s facilities around the metro area. But this art is not about therapy or staying occupied. It’s serious art-and serious business. As one artist, Kirk, puts it, “I don’t get paid to do the art work, but I get paid to sell the paintings.”

This is art that gets out in the immediate community: coffee shops, medical facilities, U of M buildings, and online.

Artists not only sell their original work, but also get royalties from sales of prints and greeting cards. In fact, plans are already in the works for expanding to new markets, according to CEO Norm Munk. “We have cards in many retail stores. Corporate customers are also a big piece of it; lots of our business is holiday cards for corporations.”

As our tour guide led us throughout the hallways, artists stood by their work, ready to answer questions or just chat. Artist Wi Wasté Wia Day (“good day woman,” in Lakota) said she came to PRI about a year ago. But she’s no beginner to art. “I’ve been drawing since I was five,” she says. “Now I’m 23. I draw from my emotions. I just have to see something one time; I can draw it a half hour later, no problem. What I really love is animé-animation from Japan.”

“I also draw cultural pictures,” said Day. “I’m Native American-Anishinabe. Full blooded-from Mille Lacs. I like to paint on one of the four sacred colors for Native Americans as my background color: white, red, black and yellow. Black is probably my favorite.”

Another artist, Mona, recalled the feeling she had when she first saw one of her paintings on a greeting card. “When they first showed me the card with my picture on it,” she said, “I was really happy, and really surprised. Wow, this is my painting.” She also remembered how impressed her father was when he saw the card. “I sent one to my dad when he was sick. He called me up and said, ‘you did this painting?’ I said ‘yeah.'”

After the tour, our guide Nathan Perry directed us to a reception room, where we watched a video and heard from the artists themselves. One young man, Alex, reflected the thoughts of many of the artists, saying “This company [PRI] has been tremendously incredible.”

Many of the artists spoke of the desire to give back to the community. Richard, a self-described “old hippie,” said he spends about two hours a week doing art. He was quick to point out that painting is only one of the many things he likes to do. He especially likes to do fundraising for people “who are truly needy.” Still, that two hours per week is enough time for Richard to create some powerful-and highly sought after-artwork. He was recently offered $600 for a painting. (He said, “No thanks.”)

Munk remembers being surprised at the results when PRI first offered artist training. “Many of these folks had no opportunity,” he said, “and when we did this for the first time–allowed them space and materials to create art–we were totally blown away.” Munk notes that visitors to PRI have the same reaction and “are transformed” when they walk through the door.

“Transformed” would be a good way to describe the feeling a visitor gets after touring three floors of Pattee Hall that are bursting with color, creativity, and humanity.

In the stairwell was a banner that summed up this body of artwork: “Art is Genius.” The same word would well describe a few other details behind this art show: the artist training and creativity program of PRI, the scheme that is spreading this joyful blooming of art in places throughout the community, and the revolving art exhibit concept that has transformed the hallways of Pattee Hall from a drab white to a vibrant, empowered “changing landscape.”

“Art means that I can be expressive and free,” said Dionne. “Not always trapped. And it’s just an extension of me.”

The PRI exhibit at the Institute on Community Integration will be on display until April, and “Changing Landscapes” runs through August 2008. Pattee Hall is located at 150 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN. For more information on the artists, or to learn more about PRI, visit www.partnershipresources.org For more information about “Changing Landscapes” visit http://ici.umn.edu/fyi/art or call Derek Nord, 612-624-0386, or Megan Dushin, 612-626-8649.