Artists make things and the artists in Make Studio in Baltimore, a collective of talented artists with disabilities, certainly do that, but the vision of the community-based arts organization is far deeper.
As Cathy Goucher, one of the studio’s founders sees it, the mission of the studio is to put art and the artist’s abilities to work throughout Baltimore. Make Studio wants to use art to create more inclusive communities for all. Goucher explained to us, “we are about bringing people together, building a bridge to the community. Our artists have so much to offer and so much to say.”
Make Studio is the real deal. It is true to its name. Walk around and you’ll find a busy space buzzing with creative activity. This is a vibrant working art studio where working artists explore their personal vision and create pieces in an endless variety of mediums. Art is made here. The only difference between this and a studio in Los Angeles or New York or some other Art World hotspot is here the artists have a range of disabilities. It really is the only difference.
As Goucher explains, “this is a working studio. A lot of people think we give classes. We don’t. This is a vocational employment model. The artists are working professionals who are expected to follow regular schedules and produce work.”
The goal here is to help the artists follow the path of every artisan – create work, hang in a gallery, sell work, repeat by building on craft. Along the way the studio is building essential social and workplace skills. “They happen naturally. It is all very organic. We have a shared dining area and work spaces. We have expectations and are always modeling what is appropriate.”
Goucher, along with the other professional artists who run the studio, not only track social and creative skills but also pay keen attention to the art. They are committed to helping the artists experiment. “We try to build artistic skills along the way.”
Goucher recalls an artist whose experience is typical of many who pass through Make Studio’s doors. “Being at the studio provided this artist with a sense of self and role in the community that she never had before. She was no longer just a person with a disability, she was an artist.” The power of this chance to redefine your identity is profound. Goucher continues “This artist went from a person with very rigid thinking to a person who could be more open in their thinking and learn how to handle opinions. In the last year, she has moved away from home and into an apartment and volunteers with the Department of Recreation.”
We wondered what Goucher looks for in aspiring artists. “We look to work with a team of folks. A person who has the help of a support network works the best for us. We want them to be a part of the art community at large. To have a voice and build bridges. This is about the work.”
This professional vision is not just typed on a mission statement. At Make Studio the artists receive 70% of every sale. The artists are also responsible to help pay for materials and services costs such as framing.
With 24 full time working artists the Studio can hum with energy. Goucher admits that the vibe of fellowship and camaraderie among the artists, who love to share their passion and opinions about everything from Art to the latest viral video, is infectious. “The artists love to talk to each other,” but they are well trained in getting back on track. “We try to stay focused on the work and have a rule to save our other interests until the end of the day.”
After all it is all about making the work. But Make Studio is doing more. It is making careers and enriching lives for artists with disabilities.