Provider Profile: Art Enables

Clem Evans moves his paintbrush deftly along the side of an old wine box, transforming its surface into the nighttime lair of a white barn owl search for prey under an orange moon. 


Evans’ brushstrokes are deliberate as he turns a second side of the wooden box a blue more brilliant than the barn owl’s backdrop.  He hasn’t yet decided what to paint on this side. Judging from the box’s two other subjects, though, it will be an animal. In addition to the bar owl, a lion has made its home on the box’s most prominent surface. From a distance, it’s man catches the afternoon light, creating a moving nimbus of brown and gray around the lion’s noble eyes. 


Every week, Evans visits this art studio at 65 I Street, S.W., to escape the limitations of a stroke that paralyzed his left arm and threatens to stiffen his other arm unless he paints. Painting is his therapy. 


On any given day, Evans may be joined by other developmentally challenged, mentally disabled and homeless artists. They come to this studio—run by Art Enables– to draw, to sketch and to paint. Art Enables is a nonprofit arts-based program for adults with mental and/or developmental disabilities who are interested in the visual arts. Many of the Art Enables participants are homeless. Case managers at various organizations often introduce their clients to Art Enables. 


On a recent day, a visitor to Art enables inquired about the work of Emmitt Robinson, who learned of the program through Bread for the City. Robinson’s paintings focus on narrative things. One of his mixed-media pieces, “Fill’er Up” shows a scene unfolding at a coffee shop. The talent is evident in Robinson’s work. So much so that Robinson has been commissioned for numerous pieces, including a rendering of a wedding photograph and one of a newborn baby. 


Through paintings such as Robinson’s, Art Enables hopes to empower its participants by giving them support and guidance to create and market their own art. During the 2004 holiday season alone, artists her sold more than $5,000 in art work, said Joyce Muis-Lowery, executive director of Art Enables. Individual paintings are “very reasonable,” ranging from $45 to $150, she said. Artists keep 60% of the sale of each painting; the rest goes to covering the cost of art supplies. 


In addition to the wine box that Evans was painting recently, two of his works are displayed at the Art Enables studio. One, titled “Breakfast,” sells for $125. Another watercolor, “Bottle and Box” is priced at $75.  


Artists here have quite a following, “We have an urban clientele,” Muis-Lowery said, noting that some buyers are “young people who want to purchase something original and interesting while others are established art collectors who are simply engaged in the work.” 


For those drawn to the Art Enables curriculum, Muis-Lowery offers this advice: “This is a very structured program. Artists are scheduled to come in on certain days and must work on their art from 10 AM to 4PM. This program is designed for those who can and want to paint for a full day. 


In addition to discipline, Muis-Lowery requires would-be participants to be enthusiastic about the program. “Enthusiasm is more important than native talent,” she said, adding that an ability to concentrate on the art at hand is important. 


As Muis-Lowery points out, participants develop life skills that will help them succeed in the workplace and become successful, marketable artists. “Art is the medium through which we educate people,” she said. 


In addition to studio time, Art Enables also is involved in outreach efforts. For example, Art Director Stefan Bauschmid runs an afterschool program at the Community of Hope for children of homeless families. Children in Bauschmid’s workshop are learning how to produce a video. Bauschmid’s students will be involved in all aspects of production, including filming the video, performing in it and editing the final product. 


To find out more about participating in Art Enables, contact a case manager or Art Enables at (202 554-9455 for an interview and assessment. Art Enables also welcomes donations, including art supplies. 



To view the work of Art Enables participants, visit the Touchstone Gallery. Work by Art Enables artists will be on display from Jan. 12 through Feb. 6 in the gallery’s Annex at 406 7th Street, N.W. The work of Art Enables participants also may be viewed at 

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