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Folks with developmental and intellectual disabilities find their creative outlet at Albertina Kerr's Portland Art & Learning Studio

COURTESY PHOTO - One of the top artists at Albertina Kerr's Portland Art & Learning Studio is Ricky Bearghost, who works with garbage and beads. The center works with about 200 artists with developmental and intellectual disabilities.Creative minds abound in Portland, and one need not look further than Portland Art & Learning Studio.

Organizers provide an open space for artistic adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities to express themselves in any form and medium.

It's really creative stuff, said Daniel Rolnik, the gallery director who demonstrates great enthusiasm when talking about the many artists — 200 or so — who work at the studio at 4852 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

"We are definitely within the genre of outsider art," Rolnik said. "It's a raw, direct expression of the individual versus something contrived. It's a powerful energetic experience that comes from a different place."

Artists who think differently than most can certainly make wonderful things. Rolnik said center artists have official files about them, given their conditions and based on perception/projection, and "when they're able to express themselves, you can see that (stereotype) go away. You give people freedom, and you get the best out of somebody."

Portland Art & Learning Studio is hosting an art exhibit, starting at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, showing works from artists at the DAC Gallery in Los Angeles. And, the DAC Gallery is showing works from Portland Art & Learning Studio artists. Center artists also will be part of the Portland Art Fair, set for Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Multnomah Arts Center.

Next summer, Rolnik hopes to launch a statewide gallery involving similar studios from Grants Pass, Eugene and elsewhere. There are about 30 such studios that work with developmental and intellectual disabled artists in the state, he said.

Portland Art & Learning Center is a year-round program of the Albertina Kerr nonprofit that works with individuals with such disabilities, mental health challenges and social barriers to help them lead enriching lives.

The center operates as a program and studio space and not a classroom. There are about 30 staffers.

COURTESY PHOTO - Michelle Fromm makes paintings of cats, all of them mystical, such as a flower cat and a spider cat.Artists create paintings, drawings, textiles, ceramics, writings (poetry, fiction, autobiography), digital media, music and video.

"The beauty of art is you can't fail," Rolnik said. "It's very enriching to put yourself out there and do what you want to do. If you want to paint a monkey or plein air or abstract, you do it. It is an open studio with no censorship of what they want to create."

He tells the story of one person who was nonverbal, but who began making art and then larger art expressing with their body. Within months they began speaking in complete sentences. Rolnik said the center has "micro victories," but that was "a crazy, awesome experience to witness."

Others feel more free and are no longer aggressive.

Some art is positive and some is negative. One artist is obsessed with the movie "The Grudge," and makes fake posters for the sequel starring Osama Bin Laden. That's dark. Another artist creates something called "Happy" and they're all joyful images. That's light.

Each artist has their own "universe," Rolnik said. Some highlights:

• Ricky Bearghost — "He's our superstar," Rolnik said, "and he's in super top collections all over the world." A Native American, he makes wild weavings, where he puts garbage and ceramic beads together.

• Matthew Spencer — He makes ceramic mugs and other items based on the idea of ritual; his concept turns stigma into mystical monsters. He's made an urn, written stigmas on paper and burned them. He's made a mask, written a condition on it, broken it and then put it back together in a new form. "He's very deep," Rolnik said.

• Harold Salzgiver — He makes ceramic bears and also does live broadcasts and records 1930s radio drama. It's quite the combination of talents.

• Elmeater Morton — She makes abstract paintings about family with intense and odd titles.

• David Hunt — He'll make waterfall paintings using the letter M.

• Michelle Fromm — She makes paintings of cats, all of them mystical, such as a flower cat and a spider cat.

"The only medium we don't do is performing arts, which PHAME Academy does," said Rolnik, of the theater arts school that works with adult students with developmental and intellectual disabilities. "We're trying to do some things with them. They can focus on performing art, we can focus on visual art, and you'd get some cool things."

For more on Portland Art & Learning Studio, see www.portlandartandlearningstudio.com.


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