Transforming Obstacles into Opportunities

IDEA Grant Be R.E.A.D.I.
Grantee Partner The Drawing Studio
Maria Pape, Teaching Artist (center, holding book), leads her intergenerational program Aprendar y Jugar from The Drawing Studio. Aprendar y Jugar is her mission to relax the language barrier for Spanish only and English only speakers to join their youth in artful explorations of learning.

The mission statement of The Drawing Studio (TDS) is “to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to embrace art practice as a pathway to personal growth and healthy community.”  The realization of this mission is being advanced through the R.E.A.D.I. initiative which was launched in 2019.  R.E.A.D.I. stands for Race, Equity, Access, Diversity, and Inclusion. The Drawing Studio is committed to creating a more equitable and inclusive art community.   

What funding from The David and Lura Lovell Foundation made possible is the ability to pay art instructors who were already serving marginalized communities. Program Director Anton Russell said, “The teaching artists had a fundamental problem–they need to be able to be paid for the work they’re doing. But they had a community-based model that was never set up to be able to pay them. The Drawing Studio was able to use the Lovell Foundation funding to actually build that infrastructure for them. And now, through those partnerships with artists, not only have we been able to pay them directly, which we are doing, but we’ve also been able to show them a model for how they can use the same vehicles, including grant writing and identifying donors. This is a huge way for us to address equity for teaching art throughout the community.” 

By paying the teaching artists, TDS provides art accessibility for all. There is no barrier to access to the programs provided by the paid teaching artists–the classes are free to marginalized communities, people who were previously excluded from the fee-based programs as they existed at The Drawing Studio. Executive Director Emiel Brott talked about the challenges in moving forward to serve and integrate marginalized people as the R.E.A.D. I. program was implemented: “One of our goals is to try to have more integration between our long-standing students and R.E.A.D.I. BASTA! students, including women of color, recent immigrants, Spanish speakers, and those who are LGBTQ.”

“The dominant culture of TDS has been heterosexual, cisgender white, wealthy women,” Emiel continued. “We want people to stay with us and grow with us and develop an open, growth mindset. We’re walking with them, helping them to see their blind spots, helping them see their implicit bias, helping them see what their work is. I think everyone who’s here has the right heart. We just need to make sure we have the right vocabulary and start talking and sharing with one another.” The aim of TDS is to listen, learn, and grow alongside those with diverse backgrounds and perspectives rather than emphasize separation. Creative expression is a gift to connect different minds and backgrounds.

As just one example of serving people who previously could not access TDS classes, Anton talked about how TDS is now supporting classes for deaf people. “We had been showcasing that only able-bodied people can make art and have access to art. That was an obstacle to growth because there was no R.E.A.D. I. initiative in place to call those things forward as action steps. The change we’re noticing is that there’s now a possibility for us to look at our entire budget and say we need a line item that will pay for interpreters.  We now have a deaf student we brought into our community.  This student was able to be a part of teaching us as a staff how TDS can be better. Being more accessible for people who are deaf used to be an obstacle. And now it’s an opportunity.” 

In addition to increasing access, R.E.A.D.I has challenged many conceptions of art, including the realization that everyone is educated by the same Western civilized mindset, and presenting the same Western civilized concept of what art is. TDS is now creating a supportive community for everyone in their art practice so they can create the art they want and show up in a way that helps our community thrive. 

When Emiel and Anton came on board in 2020, they knew something had to change. The strategic plan of TDS was clear about pursuing diversity, but at that time the Board and staff did not know how to go about it. “We’ve challenged our business model to change from just earned revenue on classes,” said Emiel. “We had to think more expansively about funding partnerships, and who are the kinds of entities that will be interested in helping to develop this vision that we have of being a truly inclusive community art center that is growing all the time.” Anton and Emiel are co-leaders of R.E.A.D.I., and the experience has led them to pursue a co-executive director model. They readily acknowledge they couldn’t have made the progress they have without each other. 

Emiel said, “we have seen that we’re leading the way in IDEA implementation; indeed, people are coming to us constantly asking for tips on how to do what they’re doing better and to learn from us. One of the lasting impacts of this funding is that The Drawing Studio can continue to be at the forefront of systemic change in the nonprofit sector.”