ArtMix: Art redefining disability

ArtMix student, Amber, showcases her painting with her teacher, Ms. Emily. Photo courtesy of ArtMix. 


In a time where support for disability awareness is paramount, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit is creating a space for inclusive artistic expression for more than 7,000 people every year. ArtMix is an inclusive art center and gallery located just ten minutes from campus. The organization offers art classes, outreach programs in schools and hospitals and an art gallery to showcase their work. ArtMix is a space for people of all abilities to come together and create. 

ArtMix’s mission is to offer a large number of art classes — both in-person and online — that other disability service providers may not be able to host. The organization also provides adaptive equipment that other art classes may not have access to. ArtMix aims to unite people of all abilities through art in an effort to change attitudes toward people with disabilities. ArtMix also provides supplies for people who cannot afford them. 

Irwin Library Information Commons Associate Bonnie Kandel and her son Leif participate in classes with ArtMix that have truly made an impact on their lives. 

“All of their teachers are phenomenal,” Kandel said. “The first class we took was a multimedia class, and it was amazing. They really tailor [classes] to people’s individual abilities. Then we went into ceramics, and we’ve had the same teacher for several years, Mr. David. He has truly mentored my son.” 

The organization was created over 40 years ago and was first called “Arts Unlimiting.” It served as the Indiana chapter of “Very Special Arts,” an international disability-inclusive arts and education program created by former president John F. Kennedy’s sister, Jean Kennedy Smith. In 1986, the nonprofit changed its name to “Very Special Artists of Indiana,” and in 2015 was rebranded once again as ArtMix. In 2015, ArtMix won a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the president, giving the organization national recognition for its work. 

When ArtMix was created, adaptive art programs were not frequently available to people with disabilities. Now, ArtMix provides supplemental opportunities for those with interest in the arts. The nonprofit offers five core programs: Artist in Residence, Community Class, The Lolly Project, Urban Artisans and Entrepreneur Artisans

Kandel and her son Leif have participated in ceramics classes with ArtMix that have truly made a difference in their lives. 

“When Leif was struggling to focus on projects, [Mr. David] created a game where Leif would roll a [die], and then it would choose how many eyeballs [or other features] the creature would have, and it really engaged him,” Kandel said. “Just in the first year of working with clay, his fine motor skills have developed so much. We didn’t see that much growth when he was actually [working] with an occupational therapist.” 

The Artist in Residence program pairs artists with teachers in local schools to provide them with tools and lesson plans for students with or without disabilities. Community Classes are taught by professional teaching artists for people of any skill level and ability. Classes do cost a small fee, but it is calculated based on need. The Lolly Project offers art programs and activities for patients of pediatric hospitals in Indiana. 

Urban Artisans is a vocational internship opportunity for anyone ages 16 to 22 who is interested in working in a professional art studio creating and selling their art. Entrepreneur Artisans is a studio program for artists over 23 years of age to work with ArtMix’s teaching artists and create; it serves as a more intensive level of the Urban Artisans internship. 

Junior youth and community development major Macy Cansdale is involved with the Special Olympics in Indiana and is passionate about disability awareness. Cansdale had not heard of the organization previously, but is interested in getting involved in the future. 

“I would definitely like to check it out,” Cansdale said. “With the Special Olympics, it’s definitely more focused on athletics for people with disabilities, so it would be cool to see accessibility in the art realm. The Special Olympics is awesome, but not every person with disabilities likes sports, so having an artistic option is amazing.” 

ArtMix features a gallery where they can showcase the work of their students. Pieces can be bought from the gallery, and the profits help make art more accessible to those with disabilities. The gallery is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the first Friday of every month, the ArtMix Gallery is open from 6 to 9 p.m. and offers a free art-making activity in the studio. 

The nonprofit hosts an annual celebration of ArtMix artists’ work called Arts for All Fest. This year’s date has not yet been released, but it will be coming soon. Arts for All Fest is a free event for people of all abilities to attend and enjoy music, create art, learn about ArtMix, view student art and connect with the community. 

The newest collection of art pieces featured at the ArtMix gallery is called “ABLE.” The exhibit includes artwork from students, artisans and staff of all abilities. “ABLE” demonstrates that identity goes beyond labels and that everybody has the ability to create art, no matter what. 

Amelia Engle, a junior arts administration and theatre performance double major, will be working as a programming intern with ArtMix this summer. 

“I have been active in disability rights [activism] since I was about 15,” Engle said. “My degree includes a lot of nonprofit arts work, so I started looking at organizations that serve that community, and I wanted to continue my work with disabled patrons. ArtMix seemed like the perfect fit. One of the main projects that I’ll be working on during my internship is helping to create a book club [where they will read] books that feature the representation of disabilities.” 

ArtMix is always looking for volunteers and interns to help support the organization. Interested students can reach out online or through email. ArtMix can also be found on Instagram @artmixindy, Facebook and on YouTube. Pieces or commissions can be bought at the gallery by appointment.


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