I wandered into Artists First one day completely by chance, attracted by the colorful storefront. The door opened to a world of art and inspired me to create the first in a set of photo essays showing artists at work.
Artists First is an open studio for people with disabilities – or rather people with abilities. I spent some time with the artists before bringing my camera to the studio. Some talked about their disabilities, but most did not - probably because they didn’t seem to matter much within the studio walls.
The studio is a place to explore new artistic techniques, sometimes with the input of mentors, but often using art in its purest form – for self-expression.
The overall vibe in the studio is chill. The artists have fun while they work. They show respect and care for each other, creating an accepting community and even welcoming me, an outsider, easily into their world.
As in any studio, artistic abilities vary. Many of the artists are advanced in their chosen genre; others are exploring new artistic abilities. The artists grow in their abilities, but through experience and interaction with other artists rather than through formal classes.
The artists are generous with their artistic abilities, creating personalized Artists First t-shirts for volunteers and other friends of the organization. Many of the products created in the studio will be sold at art fairs or auctioned to raise money.
Donations to the studio help keep the art supplies stocked. Some are modified to help individual artists, but most are not. The artists are free to use their imagination to create without worrying about whether or not materials are available.
It’s tempting to see individuals with disabilities as broken, but art is a core human ability connected to who we are and what we feel and it runs deep. Through art we can see that no one is ever wholly broken.
Most of the artists love to display their work and do so at gallery shows and art fairs. Creating art brings to all artists a sense of accomplishment and pride. It also allows the artists to communicate emotions and ideas that words may never be able to fully express.
Artists First is a vibrant community of artists and I will look for more of their art in the St. Louis community.Each artist is an inspiration to others who, for whatever personal reason, believe they can’t. These artists show every day that they can.