Project Onward's 'When I Paint My Masterpiece' on exhibit at Bridgeport gallery

Project Onward

It takes more than talent to make it as a successful artist. Project Onward offers training, guidance and support to artists with mental and developmental disabilities.

Abstract artist Sheila Smith loves the way her paintings make others feel, she said.

"When they see colors, especially colors. Because colors really like uplift your spirit and make you happy. If you are sad, it will take the frown off your face and make you smile," Smith said.

"Basically we provide work space and we provide art materials, professional guidance and then exhibition and sales opportunities to individuals who are living with mental illness, developmental disabilities and other challenges," Executive Director Rob Lentz, Project Onward, said.

The artists are referred by art therapists as well as other community programs based on their potential to be successful in the commercial art marketplace. Bill Douglas has been making things out of found materials all of his life. An art teacher told him he had real talent.

"Well that makes me feel really good because it feels like something that I started doings as a little kid for myself and I've been doing all my life that it's worth something to the other people and to me that validation is really important," Douglas said.

Project Onward started as an outgrowth of the original Block 37 program, which was designed to assist artists who are likely not going to college but have something to say through their work.

"We want them to be self-sustaining artists to continue to grow and that's a tall order for a lot of people, regardless of whether you have a disability or not," Lentz said.

Project Onward students have had their work shown in other galleries in town, at fairs and restaurants.

"We hope that by promoting what the artists do best, we are able to shift the conversation away from disabilities and toward ability and what the artists are interested in and this whole other conversation that needs to happen with people with disabilities," Lentz said.

Their work is on display in an exhibit, "When I Paint My Masterpiece," at the Project Onward Gallery, located at 1200 West 35th Street, in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood, from October 15 to October 18.

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