Allison Davis' artwork springs off her canvases in vibrant colors and bold shapes, but the act of creating it, she said Thursday, is meditative. Relaxing. Soothing. At InsideOut Studio, she and other artists with disabilities have a chance to create in an environment that's all of the above while socializing with people who understand their day-to-day lives.
"We're welcome for who we are," Davis said. "It's nice to come to a place with like-minded people. … We can come here, hang out with friends and enjoy ourselves."
Davis has Asperger syndrome, a type of autism spectrum disorder that can make socializing and communicating clearly with others a challenge. Her studio time, she said, has helped her improve her social skills while simultaneously honing her artistic ones.
"I'd be lost without it," she said.
InsideOut collects 50 percent of profits from the sale of its artists' work in exchange for free studio time and art supplies, which include tools that allow artists to explore painting, sculpting, sewing, ceramics and glassware.
Like Davis, Butler County art education coordinator Stephen Smith said the studio is about much more than simply creating new pieces. It's a place that helps artists make friends, gain confidence and exist in a comfortable, non-judgmental space.
"It's not just a workshop in terms of coming in here, cranking out things to make a paycheck," he said. "It's about listening to music, talking about your day, talking about your hopes and dreams, feeling that camaraderie and the social connection to like-minded people."
Smith said he hopes that people who see and purchase the art created at InsideOut will be able to connect with their creators as artists and humans rather than automatically viewing them through the lens of disability. By getting to know a person through their work, he and others hope viewers will form relationships that aren't colored by condescension or misunderstandings.
"Folks with disabilities, they're not people you can't talk with or look in the eye," said Monique Runzer, who markets the finished pieces. "Walk back there and see the artwork. See what they're working on."
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