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Studio provides outlet for artists with developmental disabilities

Art, in its many forms and expressions, exists in every community and culture. From the days of etchings in caves and on rock, humans have tried to express the things of value, the things that are thoughtful, and the things that escape words through an artistic medium. French artist Henri Matisse proclaimed that “creativity takes courage,” and there is no greater demonstration of that courage in our community than at the InsideOut Studio.

The InsideOut Studio provides a supportive environment for artists with developmental disabilities, and operates because of a partnership between the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities and Easter Seals TriState. There are about 40 artists who participate at the studio, which is located in downtown Hamilton in the old Elder Beerman building. The studio is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Each day brings together a tapestry of different artists and visitors, making the perfect combination for an exciting, fulfilling adventure.

The studio offers opportunities for artists to produce, market and receive an income from their creative works, encouraging the artists to be an integral part of the community. Their work is displayed in revolving gallery exhibitions at businesses, art galleries and craft shows, including the annual Lakota East Holiday Arts & Crafts Show.

A successful organization, like creative arts, is about people. Within the walls of InsideOut Studio is a talented professional staff and enthusiastic, creative artists. The studio’s marketing representative, Rhonda Brown, says the staff is dedicated to ensuring the artists are enjoying themselves during the creative process.

“We want to make sure that they love coming to the studio, that they are learning new skills, that we are representing their art to the best of our abilities, and that we have a lot of fun while doing all of this,” Brown says.

An integral part of this effort comes from Stephen Smith, art education coordinator, and Amanda Joy Dennewitz, creative consultant, who are both professional artists, and who provide patient, individualized attention to the artists. They help the artists express themselves in a variety of mediums like glass, clay, painting and mosaics. The studio provides adaptive equipment and teaching methods to meet each artist’s specific needs. Terri Elms and Anita Clark form the direct care staff partner with the artists to help them reach their creative goals.

Brown says the team is constantly seeing new faces creating artwork at the studio. Whether they’re a first-timer or have been part of InsideOut studio for years, a glimpse at their work showcases the talent and stories of the artists. The McCullough Hyde Hospital’s Healing Art Project recently purchased a painting from Alphonso Rowe to be included as a permanent part of their art collection. Alphonso spends most of his time at the studio painting. He is very sensitive to the artistic process, and has the gift of layering paint and brush strokes to create depth and atmosphere.

Ashley Parris is one of the young artists at the studio. Smith says that Ashley understands abstraction. She will take an image that she finds interesting and add her personality to it. Ashley’s personality spills over with exuberance and laughter. Her artwork has been selected to be displayed on the underpass on High Street in Hamilton.

This is exactly what Brown hopes to encourage.

“We hope to get involved with other local arts organizations that will help our artists and their artwork lose the disability stigma and simply showcase their talents,” Brown says.

Currently, all of the artists are focused on creating ornaments for the upcoming holiday season. During the past several years, the fused glass and clay ornaments have become collector’s items in the area. This year’s collection will feature new designs and expressions of celebration for the holiday season.

The retail side of the studio is managed by Sharon Sheets and Rebecca Clark, and each artist receives 50% of the sale price of their works, with the remaining 50% going back into the studio budget to pay for operational expenses. Brown says that the artists “love the new studio and the chance to get to interact with our customers in the retail store. … We are invigorated by the pride they have in their ability to create beautiful art.”

American painter Edward Hopper once commented, “If I could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.” Stop by the studio and express in words your thankfulness to artists who have the courage to make our community better.