Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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‘This is Us’ art exhibit aims to represent artists’ identities

Two+people+sit+at+a+table+in+front+of+a+wall+with+several+pieces+of+art+on+it.
Anavi Prakash/The Daily Northwestern
The ‘This is Us’ art exhibit features 31 pieces of art created by 10 artists in a three-month long workshop. The exhibit will be on display at Coffee Lab on Noyes Street for all of April.

When customers visit Coffee Lab & Roasters on Noyes Street, they don’t just get to have a drink or sweet treat. They also get to see the art exhibit housed in the espresso bar for all of April.

The exhibit, titled “This is Us,” features 31 pieces of art created by 10 Evanston residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It is the third annual exhibit produced by a three-month long workshop hosted by the Center for Independent Futures and Art Encounter.

The workshop aims to give people with disabilities a “full life” when it comes to arts, according to Jeff Morthorst, the Center for Independent Future’s activities director and project manager. He said there were two parts to the workshop: creating the art pieces and celebrating them by putting them on display. 

“The celebration garners public exposure, social capital and self esteem,” he said. “We wanted to be able to provide the entire spectrum of fine art.” 

Prior to 2024, the exhibit was shown at a small Evanston art gallery with limited hours. Morthorst said the move to Coffee Lab creates more opportunities for people to see the artists’ work.

Melinda Menezes was one of those viewers. She said the exhibit was meaningful to her because she has family members with intellectual disabilities whom she wished had opportunities like this workshop. 

“People that have intellectual disabilities are sometimes in the shadows, so I think it’s really nice to bring it forward where (people) get to see our commonalities (with each other),” she said. 

Morthorst said the title, “This is Us,” is an “expression of the group.” 

He said the largest piece of the exhibit is a collaboration between all 10 artists. Each artist started by creating a work that reflects who they are, he said. Then, the artists came together and put the pieces together to reflect their identity as a group. 

“What they have done is an expression of two identities for each person,” Morthorst said. “Each person’s identity as an individual and then their identity as a team or a group. That’s how they came to ‘This is Us.’” 

He said one of the projects featured in the exhibit involved artists painting full face masks in a way that reflects their individual identities. He added that project artists were guided by Art Encounter teaching artist Val McCune and had the opportunity to work with a variety of materials, including paint, marbles and words cut out of magazines and newspapers. 

McCormick freshman Alex Sangster, a frequent Coffee Lab customer, said she had casually looked at the art while picking a table to sit at and thought it was “cool.” After learning about the mission of the workshop, her opinion didn’t change, she said. 

“I think it’s cooler now, but it doesn’t make me think any differently (about the exhibit),” Sangster said.

Morthorst said he hopes exhibit viewers treat it like any other art display they see in the city. He added that he wants people to see the artists of “This is Us” in the same light they would see artists without disabilities.

As for the artists themselves, he said he wants them to feel proud of the work they’ve done. 

“I’m really hoping that they get that sense of accomplishment that drives people to continue to try and feel the joy of recognition from folks who see their work and (feel) a sense of belonging to the community,” Morthorst said. 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @anavi_52

Related Stories: 

Evanston Mural Arts Program brings art to Evanston streets 

Coffee Lab partners with Sinag to display AAPI art 

Art Club helps individuals with disabilities share artistic voice

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