By Jean Cunningham
“I like to come and make art before I go to my job at the grocery store. It calms me down.”
“I like to work on one piece at a time so that I don’t get confused.”
“I need variety, so I work on several pieces at once so that I feel better.”
Visibility Arts is part of a nonprofit called Search, Inc. For 20 years, it has provided programs focused on art history and creating art. The program is located at 824 Dempster Street. All artists in the program have some type of developmental challenge or disability. A group of six individuals: John, Katy, Eric, Becky, Pam, and Henry, were kind enough to share with me how they create time and focus for their artistic work. They have individually been working with Visibility Arts from four to as many as twenty years.
Art is regularly offered in 1–2-hour time slots. Attendees get exposure to art history, learn about artists, are introduced to new materials, and use studio time to create their personal art. The six artists I interviewed create their works using a variety of mediums including acrylics, prints, and virtual graphics.
A work is sometimes utilized on products sold by Visibility Arts such as graphic images on drinking glasses or labels on candle packaging. One image was of a raccoon. Pam explained that she sees a racoon much like humans, they both need love and food. The final graphic was a result of creating several variants before settling on one that was then printed on drinking glasses. Becky created an image of a musk ox. After creating the image in pencil, it was sent to a printer to print on drinking glasses. She also selected the color and finish for the product.
Visibility Arts was awarded a grant from the Evanston Arts Council to publicize the ability of those with disabilities to participate and contribute equally to the Evanston art community. One of the activities under the grant was to create a logo that could be used on buttons, stickers, business cards, and lapel pins that would be distributed throughout Evanston. The activity was part of an awareness campaign called NeurodiVERSED. The final logo is reflective of the multiple ways that people process using their brains. It is the shape of the brain with five different colors representing different regions of the brains. The logo was developed collaboratively by Henry and John. Because of the pandemic restrictions, they had to collaborate remotely. One would gather photos; the other would create a sample. They talked to each other remotely and completed the image.
As with most artists, sharing their finished creations is important to Visibility Arts artists in order to receive recognition. The artists at Visibility Arts have the opportunity to participate in as many as 12 shows each year. Some are in gallery space like the recent show at Three Crowns gallery. Another example is the Evanston Made market on the first Saturday of each month during the summer. Most recently, works by the artists were shown at the Evanston Art Center as part of the Evanston Made show, and theirs were some of the first works sold at that show. Completed art is in the windows every day at their Dempster office. All the art pieces are for sale, and the funds go to the artists.
As members of the Main-Dempster Mile (MDM) community organization, the Visibility Arts artists created and contributed the drawings for a coloring book that is being sold as a fund raiser for the MDM Festival Fund by some of the merchants. It is Halloween themed and can be purchased locally. To see it and learn where to purchase it, visit
Another instance of their artistic accomplishments is when John and Katy collaborated to offer a class in portraiture at the Evanston Public library.
Visibility Arts creates the opportunity for the artists to have control, which for some disabled people is often lacking in other parts of their lives. They use their artistic voice to present a component of their lives that often is not seen or is dismissed. When asked why they do art, the answers sounded very similar to all the artists I am fortunate enough to interview.
“I feel like I created something great.”
“I enjoy being an artist and grateful for this opportunity.”
“I like seeing people look at our work through the window.”
I asked, “And how do you know when a piece is done?”
“I walk away and then come back with fresh eyes another day. But sometimes it is tough to make that decision.“
The response to this question that has stayed with me relates to the subjective aspect of art that is one of the most defining and alluring features of creative work.
“When I think it looks good, then it is done.” Just like our brains are different, so are our tastes in art. And none of them are wrong.
If you would like to learn more go to https://www.search-inc.org . If you would like to purchase any of the products or art, visit the office at 824 Dempster Street in Evanston or go online at https://planet-access-co.shoplightspeed.com/home-goods/visibility-arts/ .
Jean Cunningham is retired after a career in business management and finance. She has written three books and authored many articles in her field, was a speaker at conferences, and taught at the university level. While traveling for business she began painting and drawing for relaxation and collecting art. She and her husband have lived in Evanston for 11 years and are avid walkers of the town and lakeside. She has a BS from Indiana University and an MBA from Northeastern University.