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How a group of disabled artists captured the attention of Marc Jacobs and MoMA


How a group of disabled artists captured the attention of Marc Jacobs and MoMA

WATCH  |  In the bright, colorful studio at Creative Growth art center in Oakland, Calif., more than 100 disabled artists gather every day. Most are self-trained -- but their pieces, presented in the gallery next door, suggest otherwise. Some have been sold for thousands of dollars. 

Creative Growth is a professional art studio that serves adult artists with developmental or physical disabilities. Founded in 1974 by a group of artists, the studio now boasts 162 talented individuals. It's a training ground for all types of visual art, including painting, woodworking, ceramics, sculpting, textiles, filmmaking and more. 

"For many of our folks, it's really a family," said Tom di Maria, director of Creative Growth. "They have great and long-lasting relationships in that sense, like a camaraderie."


While there are no formal classes at Creative Growth, all 28 members of the staff come from an art school background and offer guidance and encouragement to the artists. 

It didn't take long for the artists' work to capture the attention of many established collectors from major cities, many of whom now visit the gallery regularly. 

Sculptures by Judith Scott, a visual artist with Down syndrome who passed away in 2005, are now in the permanent collections of Museum of Modern Art in New York and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 

Sketches by Dan Miller, one of Creative Growth's leading artists, have been featured at prominent shows and galleries. 

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Creative Growth artists have also collaborated with brands like Marc Jacobs, Levi's and Anthropologie to create limited-edition products. 

The pieces sold in the gallery are priced anywhere from $10 to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the collecting history around the work. The process is similar to that of any commercial art gallery.

The purchase of artwork supports the artists, while the art supplies, which are not exactly cheap, and membership are provided for free. The current operating budget for Creative Growth is about $2 million, funded by donors and fundraisers. Di Maria says while they have generous donors, funding continues to be an obstacle.

"We don't like to pressure the artists, and yet there's an increasing interest and demand for our work, so we have to balance those things." said Di Maria. 

Since joining in 2000, he has played a major role in expanding the value of the artists' work in the contemporary art world. But at the end of the day, he says, it's up to the artists to set the pace. 


The Creative Growth studio and gallery, both in downtown Oakland, are open to the public Monday through Saturday. 

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