Picture this: You’re online watching an artist create; seeing him sketch faint lines over a large piece of paper and fill in the shapes with washes of color.You’re inspired. You have an idea for the piece. Maybe it’s something you’ve created yourself, or maybe you just wish the artist would add it in for you. You want to be a part of this project. And so you get on the phone, or you send an email, or you scan in your drawing, or you type your thought into the provided chat window — and as you watch, the artist takes your idea and makes it a part of the work.
Welcome to “Art for All,” an artist-in-residency partnership sponsored by Corvallis agencies Cornerstone Associates and the Disability Equity Center. The partnership is starting by asking participants to join in a real-time, collaborative work it’s calling an “art-making journey” from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday the week of July 13. The theme is “local rivers.” Corvallis artist Andrew Myers will lead the project, bringing the joint artistic vision to life as people call, email or chat online about the work.
“I haven't done anything exactly like this before, we'll see. I'll kind of adapt,” he said. "I think I will have some kind of work started and people can watch or give input or comments or anything. And then I'll try to incorporate it into the work somehow."
He’s looking forward to the challenge, he added, and he hopes participants will be inspired, too, “to maybe think of different ways to work with multiple people. Hopefully it sends an example of what can be done in these times when we're sort of stuck to our own spaces, still being able to collaborate; reach out and work with other people." Cornerstone has begun turning more to virtual programming, said Bruce Burris, manager of the community access program. “I think this interaction is going to be with us for quite some time, so we might as well get real good at it, right?"
Cornerstone’s mission is to create meaningful employment and community involvement opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Art is a key part of that, Burris said. Under normal circumstances, Burris would be setting up artist-in-residence lessons with the people who come to Cornerstone each day. Restrictions on gatherings to limit potential exposure to the novel coronavirus meant he needed to look for new outreach opportunities. “I really believe that the fundamental motivation people have is the desire to create and contribute culturally,” Burris said. “For those of us who experience neurological differences, the opportunities are quite often very limited, and so this is compounded during times such as these.” Cornerstone already had Myers booked for a collaboration this spring and summer through funding from the Benton County Cultural Commission. The residency specifically was to engage with people in the community and in the Cornerstone program and develop relationships among them.
Enter Allison Hobgood, who with co-founder Abby Mulcahy and a team of dedicated volunteers is helping build a network known as the Disability Equity Center. Together, the center and Cornerstone put together a summer’s worth of opportunities to create that don’t depend on proximity, physical or developmental abilities, or even access to special tools. The project starts with Myers’ collaborative work the week of July 13. That’s followed by a series of free, inclusive online art classes for participants of all abilities, 2 to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday the week of July 20. These will be taught by DEC intern and Willamette University student Celeste Gutentag.
For the rest of the summer, the agencies are working together on “Disability Art and Storytelling.” The theme: What does it mean to be a disabled person in today’s world? What do you want people to know about your experiences and needs? Your survival strategies and wisdom? The agencies plan to work with artists and writers to provide supplies, support and inclusive access to art-making as the theme unfolds. “We have not done anything like this before in part because the Disability Equity Center is a new, burgeoning nonprofit in Corvallis that’s right now more of a community network,” Hobgood said. The network, she said, is a group of people with disabilities, along with their caregivers and allies, who work together to create more communication, community education, support with systems, health care navigation, cultural opportunities and places to be “together,” either physically or virtually. Supporters are working to make the center a formal nonprofit while they focus on various projects to raise awareness. Burris had been a part of two of the organizational meetings for the equity center. When Hobgood put out a call for art and storytelling projects, he said that might dovetail well with what he was already working toward with Myers. “It's been a super-organic and wonderful collaboration,” Hobgood said.