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Make Studio offers platform for artists with disabilities

Circus performers in all their gaudy glory. A timeline linking the actors who have played James Bond to the U.S. presidents at the time the movies came out. Rosemary's baby.

The Make Studio on North Avenue, celebrating its second anniversary with a reception and exhibition this weekend, is filled with drawings, paintings and three-dimensional representations of the artists' often whimsical and reliably engaging world views. Devoted to the art of developmentally challenged young men and women, the studio offers a place for them to develop and market their skills.

"Oftentimes, individuals with disabilities, their ideas and creative visions are overlooked," said Cathy Goucher, 39, an art therapist working with special-needs students at Baltimore's St. Elizabeth School and one of Make Studio's co-founders. "We hope the general public will take from here an appreciation for their unique creative vision and worldview."

About a dozen artists use Make Studio, and their works will be covering the studio walls this weekend. The prolific Jerry Williams specializes in stylized, brightly colored characterizations of circus performers, wrestlers and "Star Trek" characters.

Tony Labate's encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture lends credibility (and more than a trace of humor) to his elongated tributes to a range of subjects, from family and friends to John Astin and the Academy Awards.

Bess Lumsden and her "Heroines of Horror" dolls reflect the whimsically nightmarish visions of Tim Burton and Japanese anime, as well as a few of her own. Rachel Tuchman, who can usually be found hunched over a laptop computer, describes herself as "a semi-crazy, very enthusiastic, quirky, silly mainly digital artist and writer."

The studio offers art that is as affordable as it is enjoyable. Rarely does anything cost more than $200, and there's plenty of creativity on sale for between $50 and $75.

Goucher and her partners, Jill Scheibler and Stefan Bauschmid, founded Make Studio in 2010 as an outgrowth of their work as art therapists. Goucher and Scheibler say an enterprise like Make Studio does all kinds of good for men and women with disabilities such as autism, bipolar disorder and Down's syndrome. Tapping into their creativity isn't hard, the two women agree, but channeling that creativity can be.

"Through the process of working at the studio and working with others, they're developing translatable skills," said Scheibler, 33, who is working on a doctorate in community psychology from University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "They learn about time management, how to be cooperative, how to present themselves, how to market themselves."

They also learn to take pride in their work. Lumsden, who lives in Ruxton with her parents, smiles as she recounts the first time someone actually paid money for something she had created.

"It feels really good," she said, pausing just for a moment before returning to work on another of her "Devil Baby" dolls.

Financially, Make Studio is just starting to find its footing. While it has received a few grants, the studio is financed primarily through payments from the artists, who are charged on a sliding scale that averages about $75 a day.

Make Studio receives 30 percent of all sales, with the remaining 70 percent going to the artist. After more than a year of working without a salary, the three co-founders have only recently started collecting a paycheck.

"Our goal is to double in size within the next year," in terms of the number of artists, Scheibler said. In its first year, the studio sold some $3,000 worth of art, both from its North Avenue headquarters and during exhibitions at other events. In 2011, Make Studio set up tables at Hampdenfest, the American Visionary Art Museum's Bazaart show and Highlandtown's Creative Alliance.

It's been a thrill to see their artists recognized for their creativity, Scheibler said, and not their disabilities.

"We're starting to see our artists being invited to participate in shows alongside other artists," she said. "They're having their work shown, without commentary, alongside other artists."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

If you go

Make Studio's "2nd Year … 1st Floor" party, celebrating its second anniversary and its move from the second to the first floor of the Load of Fun building, at 120 W. North Ave., is set for 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Friday. In addition to meeting the artists and seeing their work, visitors can enjoy live music and refreshments. Information: 443-627-3502 or make-studio.org.

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