By Brandon Forrest Frederick, Imagine That! Kansas City
Imagine That! Kansas City is an innovative and creative non-profit arts organization, gallery, and studio that supports developmentally disabled artists. Located in the heart of Kansas City’s arts district, we have exhibitions on First Friday’s of each month alongside numerous other galleries in the area. IT!KC is a program offered through Resources for Human Development, a non-profit organization that operates in 14 states, addressing intellectual and developmental disabilities, behavioral health, homelessness, addiction recovery and more.
Our mission is to provide individuals who participate with the tools and materials to create art and the supports to define themselves as artists. The studio’s artists are supported by a team of trained artists that strive to integrate the studio into the larger art community locally and nationally. Each artist is encouraged to express themselves through a variety of artistic mediums and is given the opportunity to show and sell their work.
Often times when we have a new visitor at our program there’s a similar reaction: “Wow, why haven’t I been here before?!”. In the three years Imagine That! has been open, it has readily become a place of acceptance, a space where you can feel completely comfortable in your own skin. To me this is the beauty of our program, I’ve never worked somewhere that felt so natural and communal. The artwork made here has a direct correlation to this level of acceptance. Building friendships between staff and artist alike has allowed each individual to fully explore their interests and creativity. These personal connections have given us the opportunity to learn about the people we support and help draw the relationship between who they are, what they love, and how to help them express themselves artistically at the highest level possible.
The studio supports nearly every medium, using ceramics, music, painting, photography, drawing, printmaking, video, sculpture, and more on a daily basis.
Naturally, individuals tend to gravitate towards their favorite or most comfortable ways of creating art. In having access to so many ways of making, many artists here wind up discovering and falling in love with an entirely new way to create their art. One excellent example of this is our artist Kevin, who came into our program wanting to draw and recreate his favorite comic characters. As time passed, he became more interested in making his own comic, and creating his own characters and stories. While crafting these original pieces, writing became important and he decided that the way they should be shown is through video. His evolution from drawing images of Spider Man and other super human characters, to his own world and storyline recreated into the moving image has been nothing less than incredible.
Similarly, another individual we support named John, has made amazing strides. Initially, he was reluctant to participate in the studio, often sleeping for long periods of time and being disengaged. As several staff members became more aware of what was important to John, we better understood how to help him express his creativity. Much of his best work has come from the things he talks about on a daily basis, and as such we began a process of collecting and recording his thoughts about the world, politics, America, Kansas City, the midwest, and popular culture. Recently, this culminated into a small book of his drawings, doodles, paintings, and the scanned documentation of his spoken poetry and monologues. For over a year we have been posting his thoughts into a weekly blog column titled “Johnny Mondays”, where we share a new thought piece from him every Monday. This has easily become one of people’s favorite features that we do on our website.
Paige was one of our first artists to attend our program when we opened in 2012. She quickly fell in love with making photographs, using black and white film and a Holga camera which allowed her to create patterns and overlap imagery. Paige was drawn to the city, the lines, and marks made by other artists. She often mentioned, how Imagine That! had become a home for her, a place where she felt comfortable and accepted. This was something that had not come easy to her in other aspects of her life, and her kind nature and willingness to learn was inspiring. Her growth here was tremendous, exciting, and beautiful.
Kevin, John, and Paige’s story of growth is just one of many. Our artists have come to realize their own potential, and believe in themselves as artists through their time here. Some of the struggles that come with needing a support system is the lack of independence, and the desire to feel like an adult making your own decisions and controlling your life. Within the artistic process, the control is theirs, and with that way of working comes pride and self-respect.
We would like to dedicate this post to Paige, a wonderful human being and artist that was unfortunately taken from us far too early in life. Her disposition and bright attitude toward life continue to be an inspiration to all of us here at Imagine That!
*Artwork and video courtesy of Imagine That! Artwork in the header is by Joshua Hartzler.