Subscribe

A new opportunity for artists with disabilities

For the program ArtWorks, local business leaders commission pieces for their office spaces and ArtWorks participants work with established artists to fulfill the commissions.

  • close
    Sunia Breningstall works on a piece for Cobiz Bank in Denver.
    Damon McLeese
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

In a regal bank lobby whose paneling and marble screamed 1800s, a group of Denver artists dared to install a contemporary abstract work – the most ambitious step yet for ArtWorks.

ArtWorks is a recent program launched by VSA Colorado/Access Gallery, which uses art to train and support young people with disabilities. For ArtWorks, Damon McLeese, director of VSA Colorado, solicits local business leaders to commission pieces for their office spaces and then partners ArtWorks participants with established artists to fulfill the commissions.

While ArtWorks has not yet spread beyond Denver since its 2014 launch, Mr. McLeese is getting queries from others affiliated with VSA, a nonprofit established by Jean Kennedy Smith in 1974. Annually around the world, nearly 5 million people participate in VSA programs such as the Denver classes that use art projects to teach teamwork and promptness.

McLeese, who says 70 percent of Americans with disabilities are unemployed, was frustrated that his trainees weren’t finding jobs. With ArtWorks, professional artists get a share of commissions and the assistants are paid an hourly rate close to minimum wage.

For the 8-by-12-foot abstract in the Colorado Business Bank, painter Michael Gadlin sketched out the design in swaths of red and blue. He then put assistants to work with mops and brooms instead of brushes. Throughout the project they learned about the rigor, audacity, and ambition that goes into making art. A.J. Kiel, a 25-year-old with autism who is an avid sketcher, used his earnings from the project to buy more art supplies.  

Mr. Gadlin solicited input from his assistants, too. It was student Richard Johnson’s idea to use glints of gold to tie the painting to the lobby’s gilded ceiling. At the piece’s unveiling, Gadlin noticed that Mr. Johnson, who died before the ceremony, had used gold lettering to spell out “airborne” on the canvas. 

“That’s what it’s called,” says Gadlin of the completed piece. “It’s taken us all to new levels.”

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK