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Historic partnership between SFMOMA, East Bay art center highlights artists with disabilities

The Bay Area has a thriving art scene. But something unprecedented has happened that will highlight an often overlooked aspect of the region’s artistic richness.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA, purchased more than 100 works for its permanent collection by artists associated with East Bay non-profit Creative Growth, which works with artists with developmental disabilities and provides a supportive studio environment and gallery representation.

This makes the museum home to one of the largest collection of works by artists with disabilities in the world.

The story takes us to Oakland first, where under a black cowboy hat and a brush in hand in what was an empty space in one of uptown’s apartment buildings, is artist William Scott.

“We’re in my studio,” Scott said.

The San Francisco-born artist is putting the finishing touches on his first mural. Much like Scott’s other works, the mural exudes positive themes.

“That’s for the peacemaker. That’s for fixing the world. That’s for the peace on earth,” he said as he gestures toward his mural.

Scott’s work has also examined complex issues.

“This is a church lady right here. And these are SFO people. Like on a spaceship to bring dozens of people back to life who lost their life of the gun violence, hit and run drivers and killings,” he explains.

Scott has been practicing art alongside other artists with disabilities at Oakland’s Creative Growth since 1992. The center’s artists do work ranging from painting, drawing, rug making, tapestry, and fashion.

Tom di Maria is the executive director of Creative Growth.

“Creative Growth is the oldest and largest art center for people with developmental disabilities in the world,” di Maria said. “The East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area is the home of the art and disability movement that started here in our founders home in Berkeley and has moved into our space here,” he said.

The center is a place where people with a disability are empowered to explore their creativity. It has become a model for similar ones nationally and internationally as it approaches 50 years this year. On this milestone birthday, a historic partnership has been created.

“The partnership with San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is historic,” di Maria said. Most of SFMOMA’s acquisition comes from Creative Growth. There are a handful that come from its peer organizations, Creativity Explored and Nurturing Independence Through Artistic Development, or NIAD.

“It really elevates and brings the voices of artists with disabilities fully into the contemporary art world in a way that’s respectful of their practice, of who they are as people, and puts them as colleagues to some of the most noted contemporary artists of our day,” di Maria said.

Nancy Lim is one of the curators for the Creative Growth exhibition that is set to open this week.

“For so long, museums and especially large institutions, such as SFMOMA, have been very restrictive about who gets shown on museum walls, who deserves to have their art shown in the museum,” Lim said.

SFMOMA will open the Creative Growth exhibit in three rooms.

“Ranging from Alice Wong, who paints vintage photographs, to Ron Veasey, who creates large-scale portraits, to Camille Holvoet, who is behind me, who creates autobiographical drawings,” Lim said. “These artists have such vibrant practices and have made so many important contributions to artistic dialogues in the Bay Area that having them in the museum and the museum’s collection, on our walls, it’s been a long time coming, and so we’re glad that it can finally happen,” she said.

It’s happening with artists who aren’t scared to show the world what they have to offer.

“No, no, I can’t do that. I can’t be scared. I can’t do that,” Scott said. “Because I want to be happy,” he said. Scott’s mural has now been placed at the entrance to the exhibit at SFMOMA. But back at his Oakland studio, he had been working on it for more than three months, the process starting even before that.

“This is my family,” Scott said, pointing to a photo of his mother, siblings, and relatives posted on a pillar in his studio. When asked why he has their photo there, he said, “Because they can see it. They can see it.”

See, that someone who is different, can create something spectacular to be unveiled at one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary arts in the U.S.

“If people see the work, I will be so happy,” Scott said.

SFMOMA will open the exhibition featuring a selection of the recent acquisitions connected with Creative Growth on Apr. 6. It will run through Oct. 6.

For more information, visit

Source: NBC Bay Area

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