Four Non-Profits Making Austin’s Art Scene More Inclusive
How local organizations are helping disadvantaged communities access tools and studio space for artistic endeavors
By Sam Lauron
Photos by Jenna McElroy
The art world can oftentimes feel exclusive. But the process of creating and sharing art is a practice everyone should have access to, which is an undertaking each of these art non-profits are committed to.
Anyone who joins the Art From the Streets community is an artist first and foremost. Once you’re here, nothing else matters — not your background, experience level or even your living situation.
For 29 years, Art From the Streets has provided a safe and welcoming space for Austin’s homeless and at-risk population to retreat to and create art. Through a combination of open studio time and public art shows — where 95% of sales go back to the artist — Art From the Streets has built a supportive community for people experiencing homelessness as they work toward positive goals.
Now, the non-profit has secured its first-ever permanent space to call home. The space will continue to host open studio as well as public events in hopes that the community can open its eyes to a population that is often misunderstood.
“When you meet someone who has been homeless or is in transition and get to see their artwork,” says executive director of Art From the Streets, Kelley Worden, “you get a different perspective of what homeless looks like.”
This integration of communities is also at the root of another local non-profit’s mission.
Founded in 2016 by Katie Stahl and Lucy Gross, Sage Studio is an art studio and gallery for artists with disabilities. Stahl, an art educator, and Gross, a social worker, met while working at an art-based day habilitation center for adults with disabilities. It was here where they noticed a gap between their artists and the contemporary art world.
“One thing we really lamented was that when we would have art shows [at the center], it was really limited as far as who would come; it was mostly families of the artists and friends that we invited,” Gross recalls. “We wanted these artists with disabilities to be part of the contemporary art world.”
Sage Studio recently moved into Canopy, the artist studio community in East Austin, where it offers dedicated studio space for artists with disabilities and a gallery to exhibit their work. By integrating their artists within an established art community, Gross hopes to finally bridge the gap that they set out to address.
“We hope to create an exhibition space where the work of artists with and without disabilities are shown together,” says Gross. “It’s not as if our artists exist tangentially with the contemporary art community, but they’re really a part of it.”
When it comes to having a space to create, access to affordable studios is one of the biggest challenges of being a working artist in Austin. And not just because of the city’s recent growth. Affordable studio space has long been an issue; just ask Joshua Green, co-founder and executive director of ArtUs Co.
In 2005, Green, along with a group of artists, founded Pump Project Art Complex, a 12,000-square-foot warehouse in East Austin that offered affordable studio space and exhibition opportunities for artists just starting their careers.
After a long run on the east side, the non-profit found a new home at The Arboretum in 2019 and rebranded as ArtUs Co.
Though there’s quite a contrast between their former east side neighborhood and The Arboretum area, the new location continues to offer affordable studio space, an Artist Resource Center, and even operates a public storefront.
“If you had asked me a few years ago, I never would have thought I’d be running a local artist store,” Green laughs. “It’s been great to provide some of our artists with another income source and a community.”
While many art non-profits support working artists, E4 Youth aims to effect change at the beginning of a creative person’s journey.
Founded in 2009 by Carl Settles, E4 Youth is on a mission to bridge the gap between underserved youth and creative careers. Settles, a former teacher, saw firsthand how limited access to creative activities is for students and how it can impact their careers.
“Even though the creative economy is what’s driving our prosperity, creative people don’t always get respect,” says Settles. “If a young person of color says, ‘I want to be an engineer’ people get excited. But if they say, ‘I want to make films’ or ‘I like to draw,’ they’re often discouraged from that.”
Guided by its foundational pillars, E4 aims to cultivate a pipeline of creative development for high school and college-age youth. The non-profit’s programming is designed to engage students where their interests lie, educate them on how to harness those interests into employable skills, connect them with employers and empower them to pursue their creative goals.
“We’re giving them a process that they can take themselves through to really help them reach their full potential,” says Settles.