Creativity Explored in Potrero Hill

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In a neighborhood known for its concentration of artists Creativity Explored fits right in. The fine art studio, located on Arkansas and 16th streets, works with artists who have developmental disabilities. Founded in 1983, the nonprofit was initially launched in the Mission, after artist Florence Katz and psychologist Dr. Elias Katz noticed a lack of fine arts resources for adults with developmental disabilities.

“Their philosophy was that everyone has the right to create in a supportive environment,” said Francis Kohler, studio and services manager of CE2, Creativity Explored’s Potrero Hill studio. “They thought something was missing from the landscape; like what about the budding Picassos and Rembrandts? Why can’t they have that opportunity like anybody else?”

The founding couple, who have since passed away – Florence in 1990; Elias two decades later – opened three other stand-alone nonprofits. Niad Art Center was started in Richmond in 1982, and Creative Growth Art Center of Oakland launched in 1974.  Creativity Unlimited opened in San Jose in 1982 and has since closed.

At CE2 artists have their own workspace, where they can engage in printmaking, painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, or fabric art. The studio offers an animation program, giving artists access to on-site computer systems.  And the nonprofit helps its artists market, showcase, and sell their work locally, nationally, and globally.

“It’s not a school or a club. It’s this artistic community. I love that. I love the concentration of creative energy,” said Kohler. “It’s not limited to a two or four year program. They can stay here as long as they want to, and create in this really rich environment. That’s really amazing to be a part of.”

Between its two studios and 20 employees, Creativity Explored houses 130 artists.  Most are referred to the nonprofit by their social workers. The original studio, located on 16th between Guerrero and Dolores, is a Mission landmark. Aside from providing art direction and studio space for up to 60 artists, it serves as the organization’s office and gallery.

CE2, which opened in 2004, was prompted in part by the need to better accommodate artists in wheelchairs. These days Kolher said the primary difference between the two locations is the Hill’s calmer ambiance; CE2 generally hosts a maximum of 20 artists, one-third of its sister location.

In addition to creating art, the nonprofit has broken-down biases against artists with disabilities.  “It’s a standard prejudice that people with developmental disabilities never grow up, so the art will be child-like. That’s just incorrect. And I think that’s the most wonderful thing that has happened since the gallery opened. We’ve really given the public the opportunity to see art that happens to be made by people with developmental disabilities.”

Earlier this year CE2 opened its doors to the public in a new way, inviting Hill residents to view and purchase art directly from the studio. Unlike many high-priced art galleries, Creativity Explored keeps its prices affordable; pieces start at $25.

The studio is also piloting its first artist-in-residence program, where talented, local artists without developmental disabilities are provided a workspace to create, while having the opportunity to collaborate with other on-site artists. San Franciscan Joseph McGovern is the studio’s first artist-in-residence. He’ll devote the first half of his four-month residency to his own practice, the second half to collaborative work with CE’s artists.

No stranger to communal connectivity, CE2 partners with the California College of the Arts through an externship program, and hosts six art shows throughout the year, attracting roughly 15,000 visitors.

“Over the years we have not just survived, we’ve managed to thrive. That’s because of the people who appreciate and believe in what we’re doing,” said Taub. “I think organizations like Creativity Explored make a good planet to live on and I think that’s one of the things that’s really right about San Francisco.”