Lynn Papazian, art director of Exceed Enterprises' Emerge Arts Program, wants her artists to be fearless and unafraid to try new things.
"With art there is so much judgment. When people step out and take a risk, it's pretty awesome," she said.
Milwaukie-based Exceed Enterprises has been providing vocational and personal development services for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities since 1968, but the art program is only about a year old, said Danny Knoll, community relations specialist for the nonprofit.
All of Papazian's students work in Exceed warehouse's manufacturing, assembling and packaging area, where they are paid for their labors. Then they are invited to come to art classes in the same building, in the morning or afternoon, five days a week, where "we don't even look at the disability, we look at ability," Knoll said.
Emerge Arts program
When Papazian first set up the program, the goal was to find a gallery space for the emerging artists to sell their work, but that has been placed on the back burner.
"What we are looking for now is to partner with some businesses in the community, who will let us hang our art to sell," she said.
Currently, artists in the program display and sell their work in the tiny lobby of the Exceed Enterprises building on Southeast Mallard Way.
"We exhibited some art before Christmas and were surprised how well it sold, but we want more people to see it," Papazian said.
Ultimately, she would like to find a studio or gallery space where the Exceed artists could work and sell their art, but also where members of the community would be welcome to participate as well.
"The idea has always been to completely integrate [the gallery space], so it is open to all emerging artists, even those who don't have a disability," Knoll said.
Papazian also said she would welcome established artists in the community to work as mentors with her emerging artists.
Her students, who range in age from 18 to 50, come into the art space and "do what they love," Papazian said.
"We start out with what people are interested in, and then we take it from there. I don't particularly want them to follow instructions.
"I don't teach people how to do art, but I do teach people how to be artists. I tell them what they are doing right," she said. "Not having judgment of their work is huge. I let them experience what we take for granted — the experience of people valuing them."
What is most rewarding for Papazian is to see her students be paid for their artwork and how that changes them.
One of the reasons she would like to have a gallery space is because there are few occasions where her artists can sell their work to people who have no connection to them.
She wants a place where "they can sell their art to the public, because [the buyers] like the art. It doesn't really sink in until they get their first check," Papazian said. "They don't often get support that is unsolicited; they don't understand what it's like to have someone appreciate" what they do.
"I've gotten weepy at art shows, when people come in and start buying [the artwork]," Papazian said.
On a recent visit to an afternoon art class, four students were engaged with several forms of art.
Kat DeLong, 38, was busily checking her marbleized metal buttons to see if the paint was dry.
"Kat came up with this on her own. I started to show her the technique, but she developed the marbleizing process — it's just incredible," Papazian said.
The large, decorative buttons were big sellers during the holidays, Knoll said, adding that a woman from Bob's Red Mill came in and bought six of them.
"It's fun to do. I like figuring out which colors go together," DeLong said.
Amanda Anderson, 29, shared a table with DeLong, as she put the finishing touches on a drawing of an owl.
"I first took art as a sophomore, and I love to draw birds, like swans, ostriches and eagles," she said.
"Amanda doesn't need to work from a picture. She is a primo pen-and-ink drawer. Her brain breaks things down into lines. She's also good at teaching others and is supportive and affirmative," Papazian said.
At 50, David Herzog was the oldest member of the class that day. He is primarily a painter, specializing in watercolor.
"When David first came in, he was used to doing small, detailed work," Papazian said, noting that she has encouraged him to experiment with really big pieces and now he goes back and forth between large and small.
"I tried painting bigger things, and I was surprised I succeeded," Herzog said, adding that recently he made a painting of the Starship Enterprise for his father.
He and his mother are taking a watercolor class through Mt. Hood Community College because "I am trying to learn everything I can."
Kristina Detton, 38, also works with watercolors. Her favorite thing to paint is flowers, because they are her "vision of a garden," she said.
She draws her design first, then paints it in, using colors she has mixed in shades of red, yellow, orange and lime green.
Papazian said she enjoys working with the emerging artists, most of whom come in, sit down and go right to work.
She added, "Everyone who comes in here loves it."
Paint, draw, sell
Papzian seeks business partners in the local community willing to exhibit artwork by her students in the program. She also is looking for artists who would like to mentor her students.
Exceed Enterprises is located at 5285 S.E. Mallard Way, in Milwaukie.
It is a nonprofit organization that provides vocational and personal development services for adults with disabilities.
Established in 1968, Exceed currently serves 300 adults with a staff of 75. The company's mission is to invest in the success of people with disabilities through the creation of service and business ventures that return both social and economic dividends.
Visit exceedpdx.com for more information.