Artist Lee Draus. Source: artsoflife.org

Over the past few months, I have had the chance to volunteer with an amazing organization in Chicago called Arts of Life. With the mission of advancing “the creative arts community by providing artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities a collective space to expand their practice and strengthen their leadership,” Arts of Life provides studio space, support and accessibility to artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities living in Chicago. It is a unique space, with a unique perspective on service provision for artists with disabilities. The culture at Arts of Life is one of mutual respect, creativity, and purpose. Each artist has both a responsibility to their own work, but also to the collaborative and shared space of the studio. This mutual responsibility plays out each day as each artist is asked to attend to studio upkeep and care. In my observation, the staff at the Chicago Arts of Life studio embody this attitude of mutual respect by offering strategies for the artists to identify and achieve both personal goals and professional goals as artists.

Today, I had the opportunity to work with an artist to post on her social media page about her ongoing work, identifying formal art elements and sharing her current work-in-progress with friends, family and supporters on Facebook. This was a formal goal that Arts of Life staff work with her on bi-monthly, encouraging her to both engage socially and persist professionally in her craft. The studio space itself includes both a gallery space, waiting room, café, and working studio space. As you walk in, you get a sense of well-ordered chaos as mobiles hang from the ceiling, paint spots dot the floor and the artists move about their daily routines with the support and care of each other and dedicated studio staff. While I have heard of Arts of Life many times in my 10 years in Chicago and have always wanted to get involved, it is through my participation in the LEND program that I finally took steps to engage with this very remarkable community. Below are just a few of many images on the Arts of Life website, artsoflife.org. I encourage anyone to check it out and consider making a purchase online to support this great space and community of artists.

Painting Above: Love AT First Sight by Mike Marino. Source: artsoflife.org

Painting Above: My Study by Lee Draus. Source: artsoflife.org

Painting Above: Akiza by Yordan Yanev. Source: artsoflife.org