Project showcases and supports artists with disabilities
Published: Monday, October 25, 2010
Updated: Monday, November 15, 2010 18:11
Meg McCarville is a 30-year-old artist from Pilsen. She finds solace in the shared workshop environment of Project Onward, an agency devoted to the artistic growth of people with disabilities. She is an artist with a genuine smile and a unique form of artistic expression.
Her jet-black bob hairstyle and blue eye shadow adds to her colorful ensemble of a black and white shirt paired with cheetah print leggings and lime green sneakers. She discovered Project Onward at the beginning of last summer and spends her days at the studio in the right wing of the Chicago Cultural Center.
McCarville graduated from art school in video and photography in 2003. She is an artist with OCD and specializes in making soap bottle dolls while writing accompanying stories about each of the particular doll's life.
"I really like the people here and I usually just work on my dolls," McCarville said of the program. "I like talking to people; they're really interesting, and I like it here a lot."
Project Onward encompasses artists over the age of 18 who live with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. The program is unique because artists need to audition with a portfolio for a position within the studio in addition to providing documentation of their disabilities.
Project Onward was founded in 2004 and was originally part of Gallery 37, Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs' job-training program for youth artists. The program grew and served as a transitional space for artists entering adulthood.
The program's website says, "We believe that artists with special needs deserve a voice in the world of art and ideas, and that their extraordinary work has a universal audience."
The program provides the artists with studio space, art supplies and professional guidance. It also promotes the artists' work, hosts exhibitions and sells the finished artwork. According to studio director and project founder Mark Jackson, the artists make 70 percent of the proceeds of sales.
Jackson added: "We have a lot of small staff and a lot of artists and we wear many different hats, so there's a lot of different things we are doing all of the time."
The program has a staff of several art interns from the School of the Art Institute as well as therapy interns for the artists.
McCarville said the origins of her artwork stems from a childhood memory of placing doll heads on the top of soap bottles.
"A huge part is going out and collecting all of the stuff that I put on the dolls," McCarville said. "I have OCD and I'm kind of a hoarder person and collector. I'm always looking for stuff and now since I've been here, some people will donate things to me and I've gotten some cool stuff."
The dolls vary in size, style, and statements. Each of them is fabricated by a motley selection of craft materials. Many of them bear patterns of fabrics and laces. Some include the intricacies of googly eyes and blue and red generic Tylenol pills.
Project Onward works with local and national organizations to coordinate exhibitions and advocate for artists with special needs. The program is currently at capacity of 33 artists. Plans to expand are difficult because Project Onward, like many artistic venues, has been affected by the recent economic recession.
Motesem Mansur, 24, of Hickory Hills, refers to himself as an author, artist and advocate for mental health. He is relatively new to the program having started about two months ago. Mansur's artwork is designed by ballpoint pen only. He draws the architecture of mandalas and buildings. For him, the project provides a comfortable scene that improves his artistic abilities each visit.
"It's fantastic," Mansur said of a day in the life at the studio. "Everybody's helpful and everybody likes everybody. You make a lot of progress when you're inside that workshop."