I'll never forget the first time I experienced Oakland's Creative Growth, the oldest and largest non-profit arts center in the world for adults with developmental, mental and physical disabilities. I was there to tour the studio and to meet the artists who created the artwork for a capsule collection of method hand washes and home cleaning products. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous in anticipation of my visit - my relationship with adults with developmental, mental and physical disabilities had been limited, so part of me just didn't know quite what to expect. Within seconds of walking into the space, artist Sherron Freeman approached me with a radiant smile and a warm introduction. She had been embellishing a jacket for an upcoming fashion show and wanted to tell me all about it. Minutes later, I was surrounded by a multitude of artists, all excited to share their art with me. It didn't take long for me to realize that this level of generosity, approachability and unadulterated happiness is the ethos behind Creative Growth. I left my experience with immense pride in my partnership with method, a company leveraging an incredibly special place, like Creative Growth, as a powerful agent of change. To no one's surprise, the collection was a huge success, selling more than a million bottles in its limited run. So today, I'm thrilled to announce that method will be re-issuing the entire collection, exclusively through Target, through the rest of the year.
Creative Growth was founded in Berkeley in 1974 by Florence and Elias Katz, an artist and psychologist respectively, who wanted to create a safe space for former state hospital patients, with developmental disabilities, primarily Down syndrome and autism, to create art. In their own garage, nonetheless. Since then, Creative Growth has relocated to a former auto-repair shop in downtown Oakland, allowing the organization to serve about 160 artists every week - some of whom have works in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and most recently, at the ever prestigious Venice Biennale. Each of the interdisciplinary artists not only share mostly donated materials for woodworking, rug making, ceramics, fashion design, painting and digital arts, they share physical space as well. What's impressive is how individualistic each artist's work is - you can easily recognize and differentiate the work of Dan Miller, Cedric Johnson, Terri Bowden, or Juan Aguilera. Everyone has their own voice. And with a very small staff and a handful of volunteers to assist as needed, the artists are surprisingly self functioning. As Tom di Maria, Creative Growth's director, says: Art is the language that moves us forward. Isn't that so true . . .
Last week, to celebrate the encore collection, I had the honor of hosting a tour of Creative Growth for some of my peers and friends. Since my first visit last fall, I had been chomping at the bit to share the experience, in real life. After hanging out with the artist, we sat down to lunch, in the Creative Growth gallery, in front of a large scale mural by one of the method x Creative Growth artists, Barry Regan. A quiet but obsessive draftsman, Barry is known for his repetitive and colorful circular motifs. His work was the inspiration behind the vivid colors we used to style the tabletop.
And now for a few introductions . . . You might remember Monica Valentine from my last visit to Creative Growth. Always with a perfectly coordinated ensemble, covered in bike reflectors, it's obvious that Monica loves color. This is a fascinating quality as she is completely blind with prosthetic eyes. Her main form of art involves covering foam shapes with tiny beads and sequins, all threaded by hand onto very tiny pins. Monica is able to feel her way through colors - reds are hot, blues are cool. She's currently working on a sculpture she calls her keyboard.
Casey Byrnes is deaf. He communicates through sign language and his art, which spans from textiles to sculpture to paintings. Here, he is working on a painting using repurposed denim as his canvas.
It's impossible not to be drawn to Terri Bowden's quirky sense of humor and gregarious spirit. Having befriended many legally blind albinos in her past, her signature has become depicting albino animals and people through art. Her work is currently on display in the Creative Growth gallery, where she has created a series of digitally manipulated portraits of pop icons and studio peers, as well as her current obsession: the Union Jack flag.
On the bottom left here is Tony Pedemonte. Tony will spend weeks and weeks working on his three dimensional pieces, which involve obsessively wrapping old furniture parts or bicycle wheels with spools of colored thread, until the piece takes on a completely undistinguishable form.
Thank you, method, for shedding light on Creative Growth and helping share their story with the rest of the world. Thank you for celebrating individuality and creative expression during a time when we need it the most. Friends, get your method x Creative Growth products at Target while you can! Actually, I honestly wouldn't mind so much if history repeats itself. I'll always welcome another encore . . .