Making a Scene Interview: Creativity Explored

CE Artist Paul Gee photo by Nina Menconi

Leading up to Making a Scene: 50 Years of Alternative Spaces, a visual art exhibition with accompanying events that spotlights a rich history of Bay Area artist-run, independent and alternative spaces, intern Michael Fontana talked with Charlotte Miller Russell, a communications associate at Creativity Explored, about the role and identity of Creativity Explored as an alternative art space that supports artists with developmental disabilities, the artists who use and exhibit within the space, the work they produce, and the relevance of alternative art spaces to the Bay Area art scene.

[Michael Fontana] What circumstances led to the founding of Creativity Explored?  

[Charlotte Miller Russell] The impetus for the founding of Creativity Explored was the passing of the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act in 1969 in California, an act which defines the rights of persons with developmental disabilities and establishes a service system to meet the individualized needs of consumers and, when appropriate, their families, throughout the state.

Believing that all people have the ability to create, and that visual artistic expression is a viable means to enhance personal identity and growth, Florence Ludins-Katz and Elias Katz founded Creativity Explored in 1983. Our second studio site was opened in 1995 to provide adults with severe disabilities an opportunity to create visual art.

[MF] How does Creativity Explored constitute and function as an alternative space?

[CMR] Creativity Explored is a unique alternative space because it functions both as a public place to serve artists with developmental disabilities but it also functions as an open space for the general public to view art exhibitions, engage with working artists in the studio, and participate in classes and workshops.

[MF] Within the context of Bay Area alternative spaces, what stands out about Creativity Explored and other alternative spaces that support artists with developmental disabilities?

[CMR] Since its inception 30 years ago, Creativity Explored’s innovative and respected programs, structure, and culture have served as an organizational model worldwide in the field of art and disability.

The CE studios are supported group environments. CE’s studios are open to the public, allowing visitors to see the process and meet the person behind the work. By encouraging the community to interact with the artists, and view art by people with developmental disabilities and judge it on its own merit, Creativity Explored is changing perspectives—and hopefully eliminating negative pre-conceived notions about art and disability.

CE Studio_photo by Nina Menconi

[MF] Does the work produced by artists at Creativity Explored produce particular themes with regard to artistic content, message, or voice?

[CMR] We are committed to supporting people with developmental disabilities in their quest to become working artists, and to promoting their work as an emerging and increasingly important contribution to the contemporary art world.

Creativity Explored provides a supportive studio environment for artists with developmental disabilities in which they receive individualized instruction from mentoring artists, quality art materials, and professional opportunities to exhibit their work. By developing a meaningful art practice and creating a body of work, Creativity Explored artists acquire an expanded sense of self, realizing their potentials, amplifying their voices, and more fully establishing themselves in the world.

At Creativity Explored, art is a captivating means of challenging and transforming assumptions about disability. The beauty, depth and humor of the work provokes fresh perspectives and fosters new regard for the personal vision and artistic ability of artists with developmental disabilities.


The exhibition: Making a Scene: 50 Years of Alternative Bay Area Spaces is on view from July 9th – August 20th, 2015.

About the Author:
Michael Fontana is a Communications Intern for SOMArts Cultural Center and a undergraduate student at Oberlin College.

Photo Credit: Creativity Explored Artist Paul Gee photo by Nina Menconi, Creativity Explored Studio Photo by Nina Menconi