Feature Issue on Careers in The Arts for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities
Art for All: The Stephanie Evelo Program for Art Inclusion
One would always find the late Cliff Poetz, the longest-serving Art for All adviser, at the program’s receptions, dapper in a suit and tie, with a smile of admiration as the proud artists showed their work through the corridors of Pattee Hall on the campus of the University of Minnesota.
“All we've ever said is we [people with disabilities] want to be treated as equals,” Poetz said in 2010. Breaking down barriers in the arts to create equal and inclusive opportunities for artists with disabilities is the mission of Art for All: The Stephanie Evelo Program for Art Inclusion.
Established in 2007 under a grant awarded to the University’s Institute on Community Integration, the initial effort sought to create multicultural and diverse public works of art on the University campus. The following year, the project – called “Changing Landscapes” – grew to include rotating exhibitions featuring visiting artists from art centers that supported artists with disabilities. All proceeds from art sales went directly to the artists.
When the first artwork hung on the walls of Pattee Hall, Stephanie Evelo had already been a beloved employee at ICI for three years. Working at the National Center for Educational Outcomes (a center within ICI), Stephanie was a skilled employee who was also witty, social, and even sarcastic at times. Stephanie claimed many identities; living with Down syndrome and being an artist were just two that connected her well to ICI. She was thrilled to be invited to exhibit her art at ICI one summer, along with other ICI staff artists. This experience offered her a chance to share her creative side and to participate in the social aspect of the work community.
When Stephanie passed away, David and I (Sheryl) approached ICI about creating a permanent placement at the Institute that would honor Stephanie’s life. We knew the Changing Landscapes project was the perfect symmetry of work, goals, dreams, and creativity by which Stephanie lived. In 2012, the Stephanie Evelo Arts & Memorial Fund was established with the intention of providing monetary awards to artists and creative centers. In its first year, the fund drew more than 100 donors.
For the next five years the project developed with increased awareness and donor gifts. In 2017, Changing Landscapes began exhibiting work outside of Pattee Hall, first at a downtown Minneapolis church.
Then in early 2018 came a new name and a broader mission. Art for All: The Stephanie Evelo Fund for Art Inclusion reflected Stephanie’s gifts as an artist and her professional goal of inclusion for people with disabilities. Over the next two years, the fund became a permanent endowment. More exhibits in the community showcased emerging artists who had not been associated with creative art centers previously, and works by international artists were showcased.
Today, Art for All operates with the support of philanthropic dollars, volunteers, and in-kind donations, and is the only art program at the University of Minnesota that takes no commissions from artists, though supporters who purchase art are a vital source of support for featured artists. Recently, it was elevated from a project to program status, underscoring the important role art plays in the life of the community. Our public exhibitions seek to promote experienced and emerging artists with disabilities, whose exhibited work is for sale.
Peggy Lucas, a University of Minnesota Regent Emeritus and community volunteer, has commented that Art for All’s model helps sustain artists’ growth, and thus benefits the entire community by offering a unique way to understand the creative minds of individuals who experience the world differently.
While this opportunity is vital to further community inclusion, we cannot dismiss the challenges that any organization will face when it comes to funding. Strong and sustainable organizations operate from multiple funding sources. Many art organizations rely significantly on earning the 40 percent to 50 percent of artists’ sales. While this model helps creative centers produce the art materials and promote artists’ work, it can be a financial hurdle for the artist who is already facing barriers in other aspects of life. Art for All’s no-commission model means we will have to capture other funding sources to continue this program.
Beginning in the fall of 2021, the program’s new home will be in the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, a space that will bring ICI together with top neuroscience researchers from around the University. As we think about all the opportunity this brings to include art and beauty in the pursuit of better lives for people with disabilities, we can’t help but reflect on Stephanie’s life and her dreams. It is her legacy.
This issue's cover of Impact features a detail of Different Hearts by Jessica Williams, a professional artist who works in Minnesota and is represented by MSS in St. Paul (mssmn.org). In August her work was exhibited in Cliffs are Poet(z) an exhibition organized by Art for All: The Stephanie Evelo Program for Art Inclusion. Earlier in her career, she designed a pair of shoes for WNBA player Jewell Loyd.
“If I could do anything, I would open my own art center, a place that I created for other artists to come, and where I can call the shots,” said Williams, who was born with Fragile X syndrome.
Art for All Show Aims to Challenge and Include | A Minnesota Public Radio story highlights Art for All’s 2021 exhibition in Minneapolis.
In this video from the Institute on Community Integration's Art for All program, Minnesota artist Donna Ray shares how she learned to feel color as a child through her family's descriptions of clothing and other objects around her. Local art students and their teacher react to her story in interviews after her class presentation.