Art Encounter’s Art Club offers individuals with disabilities space to share their artistic voice


Photo courtesy of Art Encounter

Art Club participants create collages. The club provides the artists with a welcoming, social environment to create in.

Chiara Kim, Reporter

Every other week, participants in Art Club meet to work on art projects like clay sculptures, watercolors, and recreations of famous pieces.

The program is run by a partnership between Art Encounter, an Evanston nonprofit connecting residents with art, and Center for Independent Futures, which supports adults with disabilities. The club’s intention is to create a welcoming community for adult artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

First Ward resident Val McCune, one of Art Encounter’s senior teaching artists, currently teaches the class. Whether over Zoom or in-person, the club offers participants the chance to grow as artists and engage in a warm community, she said.

McCune said she provides supplies and an idea for each meeting, but she encourages attendees to pursue their own artistic ideas. The club is a non-judgemental space in which she works with everyone’s strengths and abilities, she said.

Participant Alan C, who asked to use his first name and last initial for privacy concerns, said he has worked on projects at the club ranging from colorful paintings to mixed-media art like magazine collages.

Alan, who is a musician, writer and visual artist, appreciates how the club gives him innovative ideas to develop his own visual artwork.

“What I love about the Art Club is the fact that it gives us the opportunity to actually learn visual art skills and learn how to be creative and expressive,” Alan said.

McCune said the students have varying levels of art experience. She believes the club has motivated the beginners to pursue more art creation outside of the club. 

“Everybody has art inside of them,” McCune said. “We all have this creative force, no matter what your abilities are… I’m just there creatively coaching it out.”

Center for Independent Futures Activities Director Jeff Morthorst said Art Club offers a great social and confidence-building experience. Art Encounter Community Outreach Manager Leslie Luning said the artists socialize and talk as music plays in the background. 

McCune and Alan expressed their appreciation for the group’s kindness and supportive nature. McCune said each individual contributes something, and they leave feeling uplifted.

“(The club) puts me in a better mood,” Alan said. “All the people there are fun to talk to, work with and get along with… It gives me a chance to relax and reflect and have a great time.”

During their meetings, McCune said great conversations and creation take place. Artists share their work and receive the club’s input. 

McCune said this openness impacts every individual on a personal level, which in turn impacts the whole group.

“Everybody can feel safe,” McCune said. “People can share, ‘Hey, my life is hard. It’s hard, but I keep showing up, and I keep getting through things.’”

In the future, McCune envisions projects like a community-based piece to which everybody would contribute. She and Luning want to conduct more visits to art exhibits, motivated by discussions the club had at a Black Lives Matter exhibit in the Noyes Cultural Art Center, where Art Encounter is housed. 

“Right now, I think it’s still in the beginning,” Luning said. “There’s a lot that can happen with this group.”

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