From the margins to the mainstream: disability art today

7 September 2011

At the Creative Growth Art Center, Tom Di Maria (left) provides people with disabilities with a supportive environment for artistic exploration.
At the Creative Growth Art Center, Tom Di Maria (left) provides people with disabilities with a supportive environment for artistic exploration.

California's Tom di Maria encourages young adults with developmental, physical, emotional, and mental disabilities to be artists. Some have made it as far as the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

"We encourage our artists to find their voices. Instead of teaching them to be artists, we ask them 'what do you want to tell me? What do you want to bring into the world?' I think there is a life lesson here in terms of finding your way."

In his 10 years as director of Creative Growth Art Center, California, the former filmmaker and photographer has provided people with disabilities a creative and supportive environment for artistic exploration and personal expression, as well as the professional support of gallery promotion.

On Thursday 8 September, di Maria will present From the Margins to the Mainstream: Disability Art Today in a Sydney Ideas talk that is co-presented with the Sydney College of the Arts and the Faculty of Health Sciences.

In this talk, Tom will review the centre's history and aesthetics, its key artists, and will discuss his work at placing the centre's artists into a contemporary arts arena.

Some of the centre's artists have achieved the Holy Grail for any artist - being included in the permanent collections of renowned institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as well as numerous European museums and collections. Others have successfully designed products for the fashion designer Marc Jacobs, and the New York department store Barneys.

Creative Growth Art Center, Oakland, California, is the world's oldest and largest art centre serving people with disabilities. Founded with a folding table and some paint during San Francisco's freedom of expression movement in the early 1970s, the centre now serves 160 artists with developmental disabilities every week in its large art studio and gallery.

"We have a large artist run space and we don't teach in a traditional way, we encourage artistic development, which means that we say 'I want to see what you can tell me' and encourage that artistic voice. My talk will track the evolution of this idea."

Tom's professional background spans three decades and traverses numerous arts and cultural organisations including the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; the San Francisco Film Society; the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; and the San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

Professor Stewart Einfeld, Chair of Mental Health and Convenor of the Disability and Community Research Group at the Faculty of Health Sciences, will lead audience discussion following the lecture.

Tom di Maria is in Australia as a guest of Professor Colin Rhodes, Director of the Self-Taught and Outsider Art Research Collection, Dean of the Sydney College of the Arts and Chair of the Division of Architecture and Creative Arts, University of Sydney.

Event details

What:From the Margins to the Mainstream: Disability Art Today, a Sydney Ideas talk

When: 6 to 7.30pm Thursday 8 September

Where: Foyer, New Law Building, Camperdown Campus. See map and directions

Cost: Free and open to all, with no ticket or booking required. Seating is unreserved and entry is on a first come, first served basis