Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Open Studio Project Paints Good Will

While plenty of attention has been given to the breathtaking collection of 151 art partners across 40 countries via the  Google Art Project, there is another studio just north of Chicago that also shows compelling and sometimes provocative work. The difference between the two, of course, is the number of people who have heard of it.

At the Open Studio Project (OSP) in Evanston, Ill., the artists aren't famous. They don't have names like Vincent van Gogh or Giovanni Bellini, Edouard Manet, or Charles Le Brun. Most have names just like anyone, unknown or even obscure. And many wouldn't even call themselves artists.

This is by design. The focus at OSP is much less about becoming an artist and much more about the artist. In other words, the art made here has less to do with the outcome and more to do with the process. Once the work is complete, no one even offers any comments or critiques (negative or positive). It's enough that the art exists as a form of self-expression.

The Open Studio Project is a nonprofit arts and social services organization. 

It all started about 20 years ago, when art therapists Dayna Block, Deborah Gadiel and Pat Allen wanted to transform their clinical experience into an art and writing program that placed an emphasis on using creativity to inspire personal growth, interpersonal understanding and social change. It was originally like many new ideas; it began as an initiative someplace else.

But when the studio closed despite the program being refined, Block re-opened OSP in Evanston in the hope of providing more outreach to underserved populations outside of the sprawling urban center of Chicago. Today, she oversees a team of facilitators who serve a diverse group of non-artist and artists alike: young, old, novice, experienced, unemployed, overworked, inwardly troubled, and outwardly expressive.

It is a juxtaposition of art school and group therapy without being either. 

Unlike art studios where instructors teach technique and critique how students interpret and execute it, OSP facilitators move the process forward without instruction. And unlike art therapy, there is no rush to complete a project, process it, and then use it as a foundation for independent or group discussion. OSP does something else.

"After twenty years as an art therapist, I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation, The Power of the Image, as a sort of manifesto against what I experienced as the 'clinification' of art therapy," writes co-founder Pat Allen, who now focuses on her own art and other projects in California. "Our intention was to make art and be of service."

The open studio concept might sound simple at first, but there is complexity in the experience. It allows people ample time to create in-depth work with minimal directives, with facilitators mostly providing materials, structure, and enthusiasm while working on their own projects. This in turn evokes a safe atmosphere for artistic self-expression, which begins after students write down a statement of intent.

Once the session time begins, the atmosphere is richly layered. Participants take part in what some describe as a personal journey. But unlike independent art, they also benefit from the group around them, taking more chances and being unafraid to let go. They know they can't do anything wrong. 

Later, they have the option to write something about the process or art (witnessing), share their thoughts or not, and decide what happens to the work. As one student related, participants can recite "blah, blah, blah" and no one will mind. There is no dissection or discussion. The above film — the studio's first film-as-a-medium project — encapsulates the process as seen through the eyes of a student. 

Most classes and workshops are completed during a five- to eight-week session and are priced under $200, with scholarships available for those in need of financial assistance. The OSP also hosts special classes, workshops and exhibits onsite and with a variety of organizations.

The Open Studio Project Is A Liquid Hip Good Will Pick. 

At least once a month, Liquid Hip highlights good will efforts undertaken by people with big hearts. We don't score them. That belongs to you.

What makes the Open Studio Project unique is that it allows every participant to set their own intent. According to Open Studio Project facilitators, participants have used the experience to face personal challenges, cope with medical issues, nurture relationships with other family members, build self-esteem, and explore their own latent talents. Many others just come in to have fun.

While the project is located near Chicago, the concept has since inspired similar studios around the country, encouraged in part through partner programs. The studio is funded by private and public contributions to purchase supplies, provide scholarships, and develop community outreach.

The painting (at top) features the work of Carrie DeBacker, who captured her diagnosis and treatment experience as a Hodgkin's lymphoma survivor. Her work will be on display in Gallery 901, April 14-29. DeBacker has partnered with Twist Out Cancer
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