First think: How does the world look to an adult with a developmental disability? Now stop. Don’t answer that. Instead, take a look directly at the work being made by the people themselves, and talk to them, at the SlingShot gallery. The exhibition and art studio in Santa Barbara is a new space where adults with developmental disabilities can make, exhibit, and sell their original artwork.
The striking imagery of the pieces on display and direct access to the artists themselves allow the public to hear and see from a population who rarely gets such an empowering chance to speak for themselves. “I am joyful when people come to see my art. It makes me feel good about myself,” said Marc Sucher, the current exhibiting artist at SlingShot.
The passion the SlingShot artists have for making art is clear in the images they produce, as exemplified in Sucher’s collection of portraits of American patriots on the gallery walls. The images pulsate with incredible texture and vivid color and illustrate a distinctive point of view that grew from Sucher’s interest in the historic story behind the faces on coins.
Sucher said that he started by finding images he thought were interesting and then drawing them in pencil, before darkening the edges with permanent marker and then adding color. But the works are not simply straightforward portraits of presidents and American heroes. Instead, they are infused with some of Sucher’s playful personality. “I enjoy adapting the image with a humorous style,” he said.
Sucher created artwork even as a child, and he said that he remembers drawing “an imaginary control panel of a spaceship” when he was 6 years old. After an early interest in drawing and building “models of spaceships, boats, and cars,” Sucher said that he also developed an interest in “stringing beads, making ceramic items, and drawing machines.” In 2013, he began attending SlingShot, and it’s there that he began focusing on drawing and painting. Of his involvement at the gallery, he said, “I like the studio atmosphere. I like the light in the studio. I am inspired and enjoy working with the teaching artists. I like the way the gallery shows my work.”
The SlingShot gallery is the result of tremendous hard work by Sue Dumm, Slingshot artist representative and community liaison, and others at the Alpha Resource Center (ARC) of Santa Barbara. It evolved naturally from ARC’s art studio program in the 1980s, and Dumm said that originally “the intent was to see what the artists would produce on their own, without influence from instructional staff.”
Dumm said that the artists themselves motivate her struggles behind the scenes to fund the gallery and facilitate the artwork. “Observing SlingShot artists discover their creative voice is inspiring … The hard work and long hours drift away when I see our artists being valued for their art,” she said.
While Sucher is just one of 39 artists who fill the gallery’s roster, his story is a great example of how the program is helping a dedicated artist develop his art career. Dumm said that after working at SlingShot, Sucher “has more confidence in himself as an artist and person” and that he talks to visitors of the gallery about how the program has changed his life. Dumm said that artists find their way to SlingShot by word of mouth and that the artists themselves get to choose their medium, from fiber to ceramics to drawing and painting and more.
Besides giving them confidence, SlingShot’s gallery sales also help the artists out financially. Dumm said that when their work sells, they receive half the price (with the rest going back into the program to buy art supplies). Dumm said she hopes the program can be self-sustaining eventually, but for now they rely on donations and grants to keep things going. Ultimately, Dumm said she has been surprised by how the SlingShot gallery is changing the way artists with developmental disabilities are perceived. She said, “Art is powerful … There is an awareness of changing attitudes.”
SlingShot is located at 220 West Canon Perdido Street. Call (805) 770-3878 or see slingshotart.org.