Giving Artistic Outsiders A Leg Up (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Giving Artistic Outsiders A Leg Up

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:02
Now comedy isn't the only profession that can be hard to break into. Take the world of art, making a living as an artist can be pretty tough. And if you have a developmental disability, it can be even tougher. That's why a local organization is providing disabled artists with the tools they need to do what they love and make some money, too. Marc Adams visited their rather bustling storefront in Northeast D.C. and brings us this story.

FEMALE 1

00:00:29
How about you show me your card. All right, very nice. You got the signature Charmaine swirl. That's good.

MARC ADAMS

00:00:36
For D.C. native Charmaine Jones, art is not just a hobby. It's a passion that might, with a little luck, become a career.

MS. CHARMAINE JONES

00:00:43
I'm making a Christmas card. It's snowing. I put snow in swirls for -- it's for the wintertime.

ADAMS

00:00:54
Jones knows a thing or two about life swirling blizzards. She was born prematurely and when she was four, she suffered a debilitating stroke that left her partially paralyzed into adulthood.

JONES

00:01:05
So I can't use my left hand so I use my right hand to do anything else.

ADAMS

00:01:11
Like clutching a marker or a paintbrush or opening a drawer to show off more of her work. The 26-year-old artist started making drawings as a child.

JONES

00:01:22
It started from your head and started from your mind and it's rejoicing that feeling in me so I started sketching a few things and I completely try to continue on to my next path.

ADAMS

00:01:38
Jones is one of about 30 local artists who found a home for their passion at Art Enables, a D.C. non-profit that caters to artists with developmental disabilities and mental illness. Joyce Muis-Lowery founded the organization 10 years ago to serve artists long banished to the fringes of society.

MS. JOYCE MUIS-LOWERY

00:01:56
There still is a very fundamental need to empower persons with developmental disabilities so that they're not fully marginalized as it now can happen. They need to brought into the mainstream.

ADAMS

00:02:13
Muis-Lowery says her organization isn't just about art therapy. Each piece is critiqued or juried before exhibition and some are rejected. Standards and expectations are kept high and for every piece sold, the artist keeps a 60 percent cut. but buyer be warned, anyone hoping to purchase artwork from these artists will have to check his or her pity at the door.

MUIS-LOWERY

00:02:35
We actually don't encourage people to come in and do a sympathy purchase for us. because the last thing we want is someone buying a piece of art and then hanging it in the closet or not hanging it at all.

ADAMS

00:02:46
Art Enables provides each artist with materials, studio space, marketing and opportunities to sell his or her work. Muis-Lowery says this frees the artist to focus on their creations but the consequence is that these emerging artists depend on the organization for nearly everything that relates to their budding careers and most have been coming here for years.

ADAMS

00:03:08
Do many of the artists ever decide to leave Art Enables and become a completely independent professional artist?

MUIS-LOWERY

00:03:15
We would certainly be happy to see that happen. It is not as likely with the persons that we're working with for the simple reason that they don't necessarily have the resources either themselves or within their support group to have, for example, access to framing, access to photography, access to someone who is going to process sales or interface with the curators, et cetera.

ADAMS

00:03:46
And even if they were able to secure those services, there still would be no guarantee of ever making it in the art world.

MS. JANE HASLIM

00:03:52
You see, we hear about the fully independent ones and we hear about the successful ones, of which there are maybe one in 10,000.

ADAMS

00:04:01
Jane Haslim has been selling art for more than 50 years and runs her own gallery. She says that disabled or not, an artist's chances of breaking into the mainstream art world hinge on promotion of his or her work and, well, luck.

HASLIM

00:04:16
Some people get good breaks and some are ignored but the thing that is to be remembered is if you create art and if you enjoy it, your joy in life should come from what you create and what you're doing.

ADAMS

00:04:34
And for Charmaine Jones, drawing and painting is precisely what she enjoys most. Her smile says it all.

JONES

00:04:41
I feel very, very, very, very happy for now on. I'm gonna start one painting for my father, which is like I'm going to continue doing that painting. He's going to be so proud of me. He's going to be saying that is my baby daughter.

ADAMS

00:04:56
And perhaps when it comes right down to it, it's this pride and recognition that artists like Jones long for most. I'm Marc Adams.

SHEIR

00:05:06
The annual Art Enables exhibition "Outsider Art Inside the Beltway," kicks off this weekend. You can find more information on that and see photos of some of the artwork currently on display on our website, metroconnection.org.
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