US charity provides creative outlet for those with disabilities

World Today

People with physical disabilities and mental health issues often struggle to find steady work. 

It’s even harder to break into creative fields — like the art world.

But as CGTN’s Giles Gibson reports, a charity in Washington, D.C., is now providing them an outlet to share their talent.

Eric Atkinson came to Art Enables, an art gallery and vocational arts program based in Washington, D.C., after living on the street and suffering from deep depression.

He said you won’t find professional artists where he comes from.

“In bad neighborhoods, people don’t really buy artwork,” said Atkinson.  “All they ever want is tattoos and t-shirts and the occasional person might want you to paint something on their boots, but that’s not really what I wanted to do.  I’m actually able to sell my artwork here. I’m making money off of something that I always thought was gonna be a hobby for me.”

Atkinson is just one of the artists this organization is helping to break into the art world.

The art gallery is dedicated to creating opportunities for disabled artists to earn an income from their original artwork.

“There are very few opportunities for individuals with disabilities to be entrepreneurial, to be able to build a career, to be able to be self-employed, to be able to develop in a way that many other people can,” said Tony Brunswick, Executive Director of Art Enables.  “Art Enables is trying to help support that opportunity for artists.”

Toni Lane suffers from bipolar disorder.

She started coming here simply because it made her feel better. Now she’s an artist, published author and works as a studio assistant.

“I used to feel sorry for myself or sorry for people with disabilities and they showed me, don’t be sorry,” said Lane. “They are who they are and they do what they do. Here I’m just surrounded by artists and that’s that.”

Art Enables saod it’s sold more than one million dollars’ worth of artwork since it was set up in 2001.

What you can’t put a figure on, though, is the sense of independence and achievement these artists get every day when they come to work.