What is Arts of Life?
Opened in 2000, Arts of Life was the first program in Chicago to provide meaningful vocational opportunities in the arts for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The studio serves as both an alternative day program and creative epicenter for its artists. A second location was opened in Glenview in 2010 at the request of North Shore families seeking similar revolutionary programming. Today the two studios support over 60 artists in their creative practices and professional development. Driven by our Four Core Values, every artist works with the studio team to create individualized, professional development goals to advance their creative practice. Inspiring Artistic Expression, Building Community, Promoting Self-Respect, and Developing Independence. In addition to their art making practices, each studio boasts a band – The Arts of Life Band and Van Go Go – which perform at venues across Chicago-land.
Why did you create Arts of Life?
Three individuals – Veronica “Ronnie” Cuculich, an artist with an intellectual disability, a self-taught, unconventional artist, and Denise Fisher, a professional in the field of developmental disabilities – founded Arts of Life. United by their shared passion for artistic expression, they wanted to create an alternative system within a supportive space for disabled adults to collaborate, lead, and grow.
Research estimates that nearly 20% of the adult U.S. population is disabled. Despite this, career and vocational resources for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities remain limited-, especially in Illinois. Most day programs available to disabled residents do not allow for choice of field or professional development opportunities. As a result, many individuals with disabilities are employed doing light labor or other menial work.
Arts of Life founding team saw this overwhelming need for fulfillment and opportunity. Ronnie, herself, had experienced most of it firsthand. Having spent most of her life in institutions and employed in dissatisfying work, it wasn’t until her mid-sixties that Ronnie discovered art as an emotional outlet, as well as a channel for meaningful self-expression. It was this discovery that led to the initial idea for Arts of Life. Together they embarked on their shared mission: to create a person-centric, artistic community that provided opportunities for meaningful vocation and a work environment of equality.
How are you funded?
Arts of Life continues to work toward reducing their dependency on state funding. Currently, Arts of Life is 50% funded by Illinois Department of Human Services; Division of Developmental Disabilities, 40% by generous contributions from individual and institutional supporters (to learn more about donating, please click here), and 10% from earned revenue (art sales and program income).
What sets Arts of Life apart?
Arts of Life studio was founded on the idea that the space belongs to the artists. The employees, board members, interns, and volunteers are available to assist artists with the decisions that they make, both collectively and as individuals. We use a collective decision-making process in the studio and give everyone an opportunity to define, shape, and belong to an artistic community. We embrace the idea that our community changes based on the growing needs of the artists, their space, and the surrounding communities in which they are involved. For many of our studio artists, their work at Arts of Life is the first opportunity they have to become a self-directed member of a positive, supportive community.
How can I help?
There are many ways to help. Tax-deductible donations help to pay for art supplies, field trips, our talented staff, and much more. We also appreciate gifts purchased for the studio via our Amazon Wish List. Volunteer opportunities include working directly with the artists during studio hours or assisting with special events, marketing, research, and much more. If you are interested in learning more, contact us to schedule a tour of one of our studios.
Where does the money from Art Sales go?
All art sales are tracked and allocated to individual artists’ funds. Arts of Life retains 40% of sales to offset program costs and the artist receives 60% of sales in the form of a monthly stipend.
Can I take pictures in the studio?
We love it when people respectfully share photos of our studio and artwork with their social circles. Our artists and staff appreciate you checking with them first before photos are taken on-site and refrain from using a flash. We ask that our artists and the studio be credited in photos that are posted online. Any photos that are taken to cause harm or with ill intent are not permissible.
Each studio is wheelchair accessible and offers gender-neutral restrooms. Both studios are easily accessible via public transit and have free parking surrounding each building. All doors have either handles or nobs but no automatic openers. All of our exhibitions are free to the public unless otherwise noted. For assistance, questions, or to inquire about additional accommodations please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-829-2787
How are the artist enrolled in the program?
Any individual interested in becoming an artist at Arts of Life is invited to tour the studio and then participate in a two to three day trial period to see if the program is a good fit for them. No prior art experience is necessary to join, but a strong desire to develop a creative practice is required. Visit our become a studio artist page for additional details.
How are the artist paid?
In support of their strong commitment to equity, artists receive a monthly stipend regardless of sales. Annually, at their anniversary, artists sales are reviewed and to ensure artists receive 60% of those revenues.
How do I exhibit at your gallery?
An open submission process takes place for our annual juried show at our North Shore Circle Contemporary Gallery in Glenview. All remaining shows at our galleries are managed and curated by our curatorial committees and are not open for art solicitation.