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Who We Are

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Our Story

Arts of Life is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in January 2000 with a shared vision: to create a working, person-centric, artistic community while providing a work environment of equality in Chicago. Motivated by founding artist Veronica Cuculich along with two co-directors Arts of Life brought nine other individuals with developmental disabilities to create the organization we are today. Our shared vision grew from a passion for artistic expression and a need for an alternative system.

For artists at Arts of Life, a career in the visual arts is an opportunity for meaningful employment. Each artist has their own studio space and works independently from individualized project plans or receives 1:1 visual arts facilitation to increase their artistic skill set. Artists earn a monthly stipend for participation in the program with eligibility to receive bonuses based on personal annual art sales.

Today, we have two professional art studios and represent over 60 artists with varying levels of physical and intellectual disabilities. Each studio is 6,000 square feet and includes a community gallery that is open to the public.

Our Mission

Arts of Life advances the creative arts community by providing artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities a collective space to expand their practice and strengthen their leadership.

Our Values

  • Inspiring Artistic Expression: The Arts of Life model supports creative decision-making and experimentation, creating a safe place to take risks while promoting self-confidence, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
  • Building Community: Arts of Life is a collective of professional artists built upon a foundation of collaborative decision-making and mutual respect.
  • Promoting Self-Respect: Everyone at Arts of Life has both strengths and weaknesses. Within the community, we are fully accepted and encouraged to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves.
  • Developing Independence: Our community members gain a sense of inner freedom through their creative practice and professional development, enabling us all to trust our own judgment and take personal and artistic risks.

Strategic Plan | FY21-24

Interested in Art of Life's three year strategic plan? Check out the overview here.

 

  • ABC7 News Feature

    ABC7 News Feature
    Hosea Sanders and Marissa N. Isang from ABC 7 news highlight Arts of Life.
  • In Good Company at the Chicago Cultural Center

    In Good Company at the Chicago Cultural Center

    The Chicago Cultural Center invites Arts of Life to curate an exhibition titled “In Good Company,” featuring seven artists from the studio and four from the community.

  • Middlebrow Beer Co Artist Beer Can

    Middlebrow Beer Co Artist Beer Can

    North Shore studio artist, Amanda Gantner, partners with Middlebrow Beer Co., designing a line of beer cans.

  • A is for Artist at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art

    A is for Artist at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art

    Arts of Life featured at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art A is for Artist exhibition curated by Scott Hunter showcasing 24 studio artist. 

  • Waisman Center Permanent Collection

    Waisman Center Permanent Collection

    28 Arts of Life pieces are accepted into Waisman Center’s permanent art collection and featured in the exhibition Drawn to Art.

  • Circle Contemporary Gallery Launch

    Circle Contemporary Gallery Launch

    Arts of Life’s first gallery, Circle Contemporary – Chicago, launches with year-round exhibition programing.

  • Awarded a Coleman Grant

    Awarded a Coleman Grant

    Arts of Life receives a three-year capacity-building grant through the Coleman Foundation and launches the Artist Enterprise Program (AEP) to advance artists’ professional development.

  • CB2 Partnership

    CB2 Partnership

    Chicago studio artist, Guy Conners, partners with CB2 for a limited-run print of his painting “Ice Cream Cone.”

  • Enrollment Reaches 60

    Enrollment Reaches 60

    Artist enrollment reaches 60 between the two studios.

  • Teaching Artist Residency Program Launches

    Teaching Artist Residency Program Launches

    The Arts of Life’s Teaching Artist Residency Program (TARP) begins serving schools and students in the North Shore, providing arts-based education to a broader community.

  • Awarded Chicago Community Trust’s SMART Growth Grant

    Awarded Chicago Community Trust’s SMART Growth Grant

    Arts of Life is selected to participate in the Chicago Community Trust’s SMART Growth program, a four-year capacity building initiative.

  • Get the Dinosaurs on the Phone Album Release

    Get the Dinosaurs on the Phone Album Release

    The North Shore band, Van Go Go, releases their first album “Get the Dinosaurs on the Phone” with a launch party at the Wilmette Theatre.

  • Museum of Everything in London

    Museum of Everything in London

    Arts of Life artwork is featured in an exhibition at the Museum of Everything in London.

  • Awarded Best Advocate for the Arts

    Awarded Best Advocate for the Arts

    Arts of Life receives the Chicago Reader’s Best Advocate for the Arts Award.

  • The Chicago Reader Cover Story

    The Chicago Reader Cover Story

    The Arts of Life Band and Dave Krueger are featured on the cover of The Chicago Reader. The corresponding cover story celebrates that Arts of Life and the band prove that “being developmentally disabled doesn’t stand in the way of rocking out.”

  • John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Showcase

    John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Showcase

    Arts of Life participates in the VSA Art Project at the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

  • North Shore Expansion

    North Shore Expansion

    Arts of Life opens a second studio in Glenview, making our programming available to artists in the North Shore.

  • Album Launch

    Album Launch

    The Arts of Life Band records their first self-titled album with eight original songs.

  • Arts of Life Moves to a New Studio

    Artist enrollment reaches 30, prompting the expansion into our current larger studio in Chicago at 2010 W Carroll Ave.

  • Arts of Life Artists featured at the New York Outsider Art Fair

    Arts of Life Artists featured at the New York Outsider Art Fair

    The Carl Hammer Gallery represents two Arts of Life artists, Ronnie Cuclich and Sylvia Ramirez, at the New York Outsider Art Fair

  • Council on Quality and Leadership Accreditation

    Council on Quality and Leadership Accreditation

    Arts of Life receives accreditation through the Council on Quality and Leadership, ensuring that AofL meets the state’s requirements for safe, supportive, and effective programming

  • Chicago Studio Location Opens

    Chicago Studio Location Opens

    People with disabilities were still rarely seen and weren’t the critical decision makers in their lives. The embarrassing state of services in Illinois motivated Denise to bring people together and create something new. Joining forces with other people with and without disabilities, they began to build what Arts of Life is today. Ronnie wanted to turn her art hobby into a career and Denny wanted everyone to have an equal voice. These tenants allowed, and continue to enable, all members to have a voice and leadership within the broader community. Arts of Life opened the first location in Chicago January 2000 with 9 founding artists, becoming the city’s first Alternative Day Program focusing on artistic vocational opportunities for people with disabilities.

  • Co-founders Ronnie Cuclich and Denise Fisher first meet.

    Co-founders Ronnie Cuclich and Denise Fisher first meet.

    Ronnie and Denise became neighbors when Ronnie moved into a CILA next door. Denise walked her dog by her house every day and eventually introduced herself and became friends with Ronnie’s housemate; who ultimately recommended Denny for a job with the agency supporting her as a case manager.