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Creativity Explored Supports Artists With Developmental Disabilities and it is Wonderful!

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Artists Nubia Ortega, Nathaniel Jeung, Enkh-Amar Shagdarguntev at the Creativity Explored studio in the Mission. Photo credit: Peter Prado

This profile of Creativity Explored is the second in our Nonprofit of the Month series where we focus on smaller Bay Area nonprofits. If you’d like to nominate an organization to be featured, please email

When many people hear the term “people with developmental disabilities,” they think of limitations. But at Creativity Explored, the focus is on the broad range of what people can do, not what they cannot.

The Mission-based nonprofit, founded in 1983 by Florence and Elias Katz, gives artists with developmental disabilities the means to create and share their work with the community and celebrates the power of art to change lives. It offers supportive studio space where they create, collaborate, learn, teach, work, and sell and exhibit their art. It serves about 130 artists at its main location on 16th Street and a second studio in Potrero Hill.

“It’s about inclusion,” said the organization’s executive director, Linda Johnson. “That’s where we are, is working to embrace full inclusion in the community.”

Johnson said one thing that’s incredibly important right now is the idea of “person-centric thinking.” That means finding what’s important to each person and helping them achieve that. “The more that we place people with developmental disabilities and support them to live in the community like anyone else,” Johnson said, “the safer and more satisfying their lives will be.” Rather than doing things for them, she said, it’s about helping them do things they want to do.

Works by John Iwazewics, including this colorful mixed media piece, will be on exhibit in Fragments + Resistance. Photo: Courtesy of Creativity Explored

All of his comes together through the various programs at Creativity Explored, from mentoring by working artists to gallery shows to meeting and working with the public to licensing art.

The next gallery show, “Fragments + Resistance,” runs Sept. 19 to Nov. 7. It’s curated by Victor Cartagena and Carlos Cartagena and features works by Joseph “JD” Green and John Iwaszewicz

This exhibit is different from previous shows because it offers political perspectives. Victor Cartagena said he chose these two artists this time because they’re young and emerging, and based on “their curiosity, their concern,” he said. “I see them talking about politics from their own way of understanding.”

Artist JD Green and Teaching Artist Victor Cartagena at Creativity Explored. Photo credit: Peter Prado

Green, who also is a paid intern for the organization, brings an African American perspective, while Iwaszewicz, who was born in Argentina, “has a sense of what’s going on locally, nationally and globally,” Cartagena added.

Green’s work includes portraits re-envisioning depictions of African Americans from the Jim Crow era. “I feel inspired for the audience” when showing his work, Green said. Iwaszewicz’ art draws upon his background as a professional guitarist and uses the guitar as a symbol of resistance, freedom and empowerment.

Works by JD Green, including this untitled portrait, will be on display at the Fragments + Resistance exhibit at Creativity Explored. Photo: Courtesy of Creativity Explored

Another way to get involved with Creativity Explored is by attending Imaginate Saturdays, where everyone is welcome weekly from 1 to 4 p.m. to learn from the artists and participate in art making activities. “Our artists feel a lot of pride, mastery and warmth from developing relationships with other artists and members of the public,” Johnson said. She added: “Our artists are really funny and they’re fun to be with.”

The gallery and studio, which see more than 10,000 visitors each year, is just one avenue for the artists to share their visions. They also submit to juried shows, and since the organization’s inception, artists’ work has been displayed in hundreds of exhibitions in 14 countries worldwide.

Their work also can be found on local housing developments and has graced a Kenneth Cole tennis shoe. The nonprofit also was at Outside Lands—it’s a recipient of their grant program, Outside Lands Works—and has a residency in the common space at LinkedIn headquarters at 222 2nd St., with an art making pop-up for employees and the public once a month.

Artists’ work also has been licensed by CB2, Google, and fashion house COMMES de GARÇONS. And you might have seen it on fancy truffles by local chocolatier Recchiuti Confections (the San Francisco landmark series by Isaac Haney-Owens has been extremely popular). Artists earn royalties for each licensed image.

San Francisco landmarks by Creativity Explored artist Isaac Haney-Owens are featured on a popular line of burnt caramel truffles at Recchiuti Confections. Photo: Courtesy of Recchiuti Confections

Artists also get 50 percent of the sale price of their works; Johnson said some of their artists—100 percent of whom are low-income—earn up to $15,000 a year. “The art of people with developmental disabilities is incredibly meaningful to a lot of people and sparks an engagement and joy in people,” she said.

Creativity Explored’s gallery and main studio is at 3245 16th St., San Francisco. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Thursday, noon–5 p.m. Saturday and by appointment.

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Geri Koeppel

Geri Koeppel

Geri Koeppel is a journalist, hedonist, gadfly and gal-about-town. She loves animals, despises hypocrites, and will do almost anything for good pierogis.