The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded Louisville’s Council on Developmental Disabilities a Challenge America Fast-Track grant to help fund a group art exhibit, The Striped Show, in the spring. The $10,000 grants, which receive an expedited application review, are intended to increase access to the arts for underserved communities.
The 62-year-old Council on Developmental Disabilities advocates for people with developmental disabilities and their families, from lobbying for legislation to connecting families with support networks.
“We uncover the gaps,” says spokesperson Carol Mueller. “We work to make changes and create better lives for people with developmental disabilities. Those might include people with autism, Downs Syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, different seizure disorders and co-occuring physical and mental disabilities. It’s a wide umbrella.”
One nontraditional avenue the council has explored to fulfill its community-building and advocacy mission is to run a fully-operational professional art gallery. Weber Gallery began as a zoning requirement – the council’s Old Louisville office on South Fourth Street needed a storefront. But the project has grown into a thriving gallery that specializes in collaborations between Louisville’s professional artists and artists with developmental disabilities.
“I was skeptical. I did not know how this was going to work,” says Mueller, who also directs the gallery. “But it has renewed my faith in humanity and has made me fall in love with the professional art community in Louisville because they have embraced the idea.”
Weber Gallery also garnered NEA support last year for their “Sisters and Brothers” exhibit, which paired professional artists (like photographer Sarah Lyon) with an artist with developmental disability. Some were actually siblings, but Mueller says some were “siblings at heart.”
The Striped Show, which opens in April, will exhibit professional artists, including Carlos Gamez de Francisco, alongside artists with disabilities like autism and Downs Syndrome. Mueller says the show’s diversity mission will extend beyond exhibitors to guests, too.Receptions and tours will feature Spanish and sign-language interpreters, and Mueller hopes to see a diverse array of children and community members with disabilities participating in the “Make a Stripe” art project that will accompany the show.
“We are already all about diversity and serving underserved groups, but this show is centered around the theme of diversity,” she says. “So what we’re trying to do with this show is pull in parts of the community that maybe haven’t had much access to the arts before.”
The Challenge America Fast-Track Grants total $1.5 million for the upcoming fiscal year, supporting 153 programs across the country.