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Art Enables Helps Artists With Disabilities Create, Sell Work

Washington D.C.’s Art Enables specializes in art from creators with developmental and cognitive disabilities. Founded in 2001, the nonprofit art gallery ensures artists receive 70% of the price of each piece sold, and the rest goes right back into the organization for art materials, including studio supplies and frames. Art Enables sells their work and also provides artists with studio space, materials, and marketing to help them build their creative careers.

Photo Courtesy Art Enables

More than 20% of people with disabilities participate in the U.S. workforce, and Art Enables hopes to help increase that percentage in the art world.

Artists with disabilities may struggle with unique challenges in getting their work accepted into art galleries.

“… [we] are dedicated to amplifying the careers of artists with disabilities. And so we do this by providing a platform that allows the artists to make and create their artwork for us to be able to help them exhibit and promote it and for them to be able to earn income from the sales of that artwork,” Tony Brunswick, executive director, told 7 News. 

“[Art Enables] was started 21 years ago by an incredible woman, Joyce Lowery, who is still very much a friend and supporter of the organization. And at that time, she just identified a real need to recognize the talent and work being created by a lot of incredible artists across the D.C. metro area — artists with disabilities who face barriers to getting their work in front of people, barriers to thinking of the arts as a vocational pathway for them,” he continued. “And, so from the beginning, the organization’s mission has really been two-fold: it’s been about the artist, and it’s been about the artwork and trying to create a platform and a way and an opportunity to elevate both … .” 

Video Courtesy Freethink

Today, Art Enables works with up to 100 artists yearly, the youngest around 20 and the oldest in their 80s. Each has a unique need for the nonprofit.

“Most of our artists have some sort of developmental or intellectual disability or some form of mental health need or challenge, but that’s not universally true,” Brunswick told “Distract Fray Magazine.” “We have some artists that have suffered traumatic brain injury or have suffered strokes who then have cognitive impairments. We have some folks who have significant neuromuscular conditions that make other types of work difficult.”

Located in the Brookland neighborhood, northeast of downtown, Art Enables offers three activities: The Community Arts Program, the Studio Art Program, and the Exhibitions and Gallery Program. 

The Community Arts Program creates community workshops for artists throughout the city. The Studio Art Program allows artists to work on their pieces in a supportive and safe studio space. The Exhibitions and Gallery Program helps artists place their work in galleries throughout D.C., the United States, and even globally.

Photo Courtesy Art Enables

“When I first came here, I was a mess,” a previous Art Enables artist said in a “Freethink” video. “When I saw an opportunity to make art in this well-lit place, around all these artists, it just brightened me up.”

Artists interested in joining Art Enables must live in the Washington, D.C., area. Although previous art experience is not required, each will undergo an interview and evaluation to be selected. Art Enables says a “genuine interest in making art” is the most important qualification.

Photo Courtesy Art Enables

“The easiest thing I would say if you’re interested is to call us,” Brunswick told 7 News. “There is an interview process that we go through. If you’ve got work to show us, we’d like to be able to see the work that’s been made. It’s really a conversation that starts in the interview process around what interests someone in becoming a resident artist at Art Enables and what that process might look like.”

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