Bridgeport group gives artists with disabilities a place to thrive

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A studio and art gallery in the Bridgeport neighborhood is giving professional artists with mental and developmental disabilities a place to create and showcase their work.

Project Onward, located inside the Bridgeport Art Center, is a non-profit that provides the supplies and sells their work, splitting proceeds 50-50 between the artist and the program.

On Friday, some of the artwork will be on display.

"Five of my pieces will be displayed there and be showing and my friends might come too," said R.J. Juguilon, one of many artists at Project Onward who will have work on display on Friday. "I like to keep myself busy and I can make money if I make any sales as well."

The non-profit serves 50 adult artists, each facing a diverse challenge including autism, schizophrenia and bipolar.

"Project Onward was originally in Gallery 37 at the Cultural Center downtown. Many of the artists were younger artists, the program was for younger artists and the artists aged out. In doing so they didn't have an organization at the time. So Project Onward was put together to facilitate that and to and to create that organization for them," said Rick Wade, Project Onward's executive director.

Fernando Ramirez is one of the original artists and has been in the program for 12 years but has been working on his passion for far longer.

"Since I was about 5. I've been known as an artist and identified as an artist. My art teachers in kindergarten put me in a third-grade art class. All through school because people just wanted me to draw," said Ramirez said.

Ramirez said being here gives him a sense of community and a chance to do what he enjoys most.

"The communal kind of aspect of it. You know as an artist you usually work by yourself and here you work as a community, its community oriented. We give each other ideas and feedback," Ramirez said. "I really love art it's my passion, it's always been."

Artists range in age from early 20s to 70s and represent over 30 neighborhoods and several suburbs.

For more information, visit:

WHAT: Project Onward exhibit, "Places that Matter"

WHEN: 6 p.m. - 9:30 p.m., Fri., Aug. 4, 2017
WHERE: Bridgeport Arts Center, 1200 W. 35th St., 3rd Floor, Chicago

TICKETS: $75 per person.

To purchase tickets, visit:

ARTISTS: George Zuniga, Louis DeMarco, Fernando Ramirez, brothers R.J. Juguilon and Janno Juguilon and others.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.