Take a step into the Art Enables studio and it’s clear that this building is the product of a hardworking, welcoming and professional community.
“From the very beginning, the primary mission of the organization was to create a place that allowed artists the opportunity to develop as professional artists and to then represent that work so that it could meaningfully contribute to the visual art space,” Tony Brunswick, executive director of the nonprofit, says.
It all started when Joyce Muis-Lowery founded of Art Enables in 2001. Several artist groups set up makeshift studios in an abandoned school building, and since then, it has grown into an important vocational program that helps artists with disabilities amplify their career in the arts. With three major programs — Studio Art, Exhibitions and Gallery and Community Arts — Art Enables provides artists with the guidance and tools to create art, develop vocational skills and showcase their pieces in exhibitions.
Brunswick explained that part of their mission is to be as broad as possible with the range of artists they accept.
“Most of our artists have some sort of developmental or intellectual disability or some form of mental health need or challenge, but that’s not universally true,” he says. “We have some artists that have suffered traumatic brain injury or have suffered strokes who then have cognitive impairments. We have some folks who have significant neuromuscular conditions that make other types of work difficult.”
The age range is also diverse. Their youngest artist is 21-years-old (the minimum age requirement for the studio) and their oldest is 80. And while the nonprofit limits the number of artists they accept into the program, they welcome and collaborate with 60 to 100 visiting artists a year.
The studio’s 40 resident artists filter in throughout the week to work on their latest project. Their artwork lines the walls of the studio, along with art-covered merchandise visitors can buy. Each artist also has their own drawer filled with art prints available for purchase. 70% of the purchase price goes directly to the artist and the rest goes towards art supplies.
The studio art program is fee-based, with some fellowship opportunities available. Most fee-based artists receive funding through a third-party organization, such as the Department of Disability Services.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit the arts industry hard, but Art Enables never shut down. The small team of staff members held studio sessions over Zoom, visited artists’ homes to check in and drop shipped art supplies to artists. Their hard work the past few years is indicative of the enormous growth and impressive reputation Art Enables has acquired and will continue to have in the future.
Brunswick says the organization is looking to create more high-level retail and corporate partners in order to find more additional, creative and financially beneficial ways to “get work in front of more people and on more walls.”
“A lot of what’s driving that is always thinking about how we can increase the income opportunity for the artists. Are there additional ways we can be building the skill sets and tools the artists are receiving from us to help transfer those skills and abilities into other opportunities in their lives?”
The most important takeaway? Professionalism, respect, compassion and representation are at the heart of Art Enables.
Art Enables is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. for public gallery viewing. Those who would like to volunteer or apply to be a resident artist can call 202-554-9455.