Entertainment Featured Local News News West Edition

Art center helps developmentally disabled find themselves

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Antwan Jones saw Hawaii outside of his Los Angeles window.

“I told the teachers I wanted to recreate it,” Jones, 40, said of his painting about his trip to the Aloha State. “It’s like I’m looking through two worlds.”

Jones is one of the 40 artists at the South L.A. Arts Center, which celebrates 50 years of encouraging adults with developmental disabilities to create art that speaks for itself and for them.

The art studio serves as a safe space for working artists with intellectual disabilities to have a place to explore their creative talents.

It’s an organized freedom for the intellectually disabled to speak for themselves through their art.

“We have everybody. We have people who have little to no output, but they communicate in different ways,” said Adriane Mota, the art center’s program director. 

The artists receive half of all proceeds sold at art galleries and fairs across the state. The remaining funds go to their studio for their resources.

The studio, run by the Exceptional Children’s Foundation, works with the artists chosen by regional centers to prepare for fairs, galleries and other events in Los Angeles County to speak about their art.

Francesca Lalanne, the program manager for South Los Angeles, explained that the studio helps the artists prepare to sell and convey the meaning of their work themselves.

“They come here everyday Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and they produce at their own pace,” Lalanne said. “Some have projects they work on for six months.” 

Antwan Jones shows what he calls a self-portrait done in graphite. Jones is one of about 40 people who work on their art at the Exceptional Children’s Foundation’s South L.A. Arts Center on South Hobart Boulevard. Courtesy photo

The staff consists of Lalanne working alongside instructors and mentors guiding the artists on marketing themselves and their work.

On the first floor, Willie Walls gently turns an upside down stool as he paints a checkered pattern on the leg. 

Walls dips his brush into the red or black  paint and gently glides inside the line he drew on the stool’s leg. “It took maybe like three weeks” for him to draw the lines, Walls said.

Walls mainly works with stools, chairs and ceramics. He sits on a multi-colored checkered chair of his own creation.

“Some do sign language, but then we do have people who are going to school part time, have a part job, or live on their own,” Mota said of the artists.

On the second floor of the South Hobart Boulevard location hung a painting by Jones, who has been an artist since 2003 when he joined the studio and has seen several of his pieces sold at art galleries and fairs across Los Angeles.

Jones has even spoken at panel discussions at several art events in Los Angeles County about his work.

“I enjoy art,” Jones said, who defines himself as an artists because he doesn’t find happiness from a job or from material possessions. 

“I just put all of my feelings into my artwork,” Jones said. “I want to be me. Art lets me be me.”

By Michael Livingston

Contributing Writer