The Portland Art & Learning Studio Encourages Diverse Projects by Artists with Disabilities

Americas, Misc., June 4 2019

The Portland Art & Learning Studio is a 10,000 sqft maker-space for artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Nearly 200 artists attend our program to work on their creative endeavors with freedom and support. Several of the artists were recently featured in an exhibit at the Portland Art Museum and Ricky Bearghost, who attends the studio to make original weavings, is now represented by the Webb Gallery; one of the country’s leading sources of outsider art.

As an innovator in the field, the Portland Art & Learning Studio has both an artist-in-residence and technologist-in-residence program, where neurotypical makers work alongside artists with disabilities. This collaboration benefits both parties. Neurotypical artists learn communication skills by working with a diverse array of artists; many of whom are entirely nonverbal. And artists with disabilities learn positive behaviors and social skills from having the neurotypical artists around them.

Our inaugural technologist-in-residence introduced virtual reality to the artists for the first time and it was exciting! The studio has also had NW Noggin visit with their team of neuroscientists from Portland State University and collection of brain specimens for the artists to hold, learn about, and make art based on. Our artists-in-residence have worked on collaborative sculptures with the artists as well as curated their art into award-winning exhibits.

Mathew Spencer, who attends the studio to make ceramic sculptures, was recently featured in RAW Vision Magazine. His work involves taking stigmas about ableism and transforming them into monsters. His show is now in the collection of Portland’s most renowned drag queen, various directors of museums, and some of the top collectors of outsider art in the world.

The staff of the studio and researchers from all over the world have been working on developing the photo voice method to enable non-verbal artists the ability to create their own artist statements. We have been working closely with teams at UIC, UCLA, Ryerson, and OHSU to figure out ways to make this process as easy and creative as possible. The studio is also a member of the AAIDD special interest group on creative art, in order to help unite similar studios and share breakthroughs with one another.

If you’re based in Los Angeles, Chicago, British Columbia, Nashville, or south Florida you will have a chance to see works by the artists of the Portland Art & Learning Studio this year at one of our traveling exhibitions. Members of the studio will be presenting a talk at Teardown 2019; the annual hacker event put on by Crowd Supply and Make+Think+Code @ PNCA. Hack For Humanity at Santa Clara University will also be focused on developing hardware and software for the artists of the studio at their annual event next year.

 For news on what the artists of PALS are up to, follow us on instagram or visit our website.

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