YOUnity Art Show

The ARTS GROUP OF UNION AVENUE will unveil an exhibition of works by ARTISTS FIRST STL, an open art studio for people with disabilities, Friday, June 3, 6 – 8 p.m. in the Gretchen Brigham Gallery in the Union Avenue Christian Church. Artists, their families and support systems, and staff and supporters of Artists First will be present for the opening reception.

Artists First is a non-profit organization that fosters the growth of artists with disabilities through creative self-expression. Artists First offers art-based programs throughout the greater Saint Louis area, serving aspiring artists of all ages whose lives are challenged by developmental disabilities, pervasive mental illness, and/or traumatic brain injury.

In the past year, Artists First has worked with nearly 200 individuals from across the St. Louis region. Some are in the program briefly, but others are at the Maplewood studio on a continual basis, creating work across all sorts of media. Artists First supplies a team of volunteers, interns, and four staff facilitators, who sit and work with the artists. Sometimes, it’s artistic guidance they offer, though there’s also emotional support that comes with client interactions.

On July 1, the staffing, the studio, the programming all will be stressed as a new fiscal year arrives. As reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Nancy Cambria on May 13, the bad news about funding cuts from the St. Louis Office of Developmental Disabilities Resources arrived earlier this month. Agencies that serve the city’s developmentally disabled learned that their share of a fund supported by nearly $10 million a year in property tax revenue was being cut.

The piece cited Sheila Suderwalla, Artists First's executive director, noting that she “held back tears when she addressed the board regarding a 70 percent cut to her agency’s program that helps the developmentally disabled earn income off their own art." She said the group was encouraged by the disabilities office to expand its program and hired extra staff. Now, she said, the nonprofit will may have to shut down because of the $68,000 cut.

Larger fundraising opportunities will continue to emerge between now and July. Individuals can donate to Artists First here.