Helping Disabled Artists Succeed

Artists often have a hard enough time making a living from their craft. It becomes even more difficult when the artist is disabled. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, there's a small group trying to form a colaition in Houston to help disabled artists become successful.

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The space125gallery is tucked into a corner of the Houston Arts Alliance just off Allen Parkway. It's a spot where local artists' work is showcased. It's also where April Sullivan is prepping for a small workshop for disabled artists.

"This is an artists' networking meeting for artists with disabilities, to get to know each other and the resources in their community and to just find out how they can support each other."

Sullivan works for an organization called VSA arts of Texas. It's an Austin-based group that's focused on helping people with disabilities learn about, participate in and enjoy the arts. A lot of what they do is focused on education and accessibility. Supporting disabled artists in their craft is another component. And Sullivan says it's the kind of support that any artist could benefit from.

"One thing we found a lot of is people want a co-op gallery, something for the artists to be able to show their work, sell their work, get experience in being behind the counter to sell their work, that kind of thing. And then also help with things like photographing their work or marketing their work, all those kind of things. And they can help each other, you know one person might have a website and say oh here's how you get a website, or another one knows how to get the tax ID number so they can sell the artwork."

Vi Napolitano is one of the people who wants to help form the Houston coalition. Her 37-year-old daughter is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Napolitano says her daughter doesn't plan to pursue art as a career, but she has a talent for painting and it helps her cope with her illness.

"It gets them out of themselves. I think any artwork or dramatics or anything like that helps you to get out of yourself, forget about yourself. And then it's something you can be proud of."

Sullivan says her organization seeks to ensure that sense of pride and accomplishment is within reach for disabled artists.

"If somebody has a dream to be an artist, I think just in our society if somebody says 'I want to be an artist' that can be kind of knocked down real quick. You gotta be a doctor or a lawyer or something that's going to make some money. It is possible to make money as an artist. It's not easy, but people can do it. And then someone with a disability may have another barrier so we're just there to help them get past that. And it's training that everybody needs to be an artist successfully."

It may be a while before Houston has any sort of organized coalition for disabled artists. Only a handful of people attended this week's meeting. But for a group of people with disabilities, low attendance may be an inconsequential challenge. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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