Everyone Is Welcome to Practice Art at Oakley’s Visionarium

Photograph by Alex Taylor

Burger King, Wonder Muffin, and Pop Pop Radical Forever Learning Castle were among the business name proposals for the part retail–part arts education space that opened in Oakley’s former Blue Manatee bookstore in October 2017. Backed by Queen City nonprofit Visionaries + Voices (V+V), the retailer eventually settled on Visionarium, because “if the planetarium is where you go to learn about planets, the Visionarium is where you go to learn about all things Visionaries + Voices,” says Store Manager Julia Lipovsky. What’s the 16-year-old nonprofit’s mission? To grow an inclusive arts community by providing exhibition opportunities, studio space, supplies, and support to more than 130 artists with disabilities at its Northside and Springdale studios. The Visionarium’s purpose is twofold: sell V+V artists’ work and provide a safe, inclusive educational space for community members to make art.

Photograph by Alex Taylor

The retail magic happens just through the shop’s double glass doors. Vibrant original paintings and drawings cover the walls, while clay sculptures, pompom earrings, greeting cards, and other handmade trinkets decorate shelves and pedestals. It’s an eclectic mix of creations, made by not only V+V artists but V+V staff and community artists, too. V+V artwork is even reprinted on wholesale items like T-shirts, pillows, magnet sets, and wrapping paper.

The magic continues behind the shop’s floor-to-ceiling white curtain, in an even larger space filled with art supplies and school desks, where V+V’s Teaching Artist Program (TAP) hosts weekly meetings and community art classes. Every year since 2011, three to five V+V artists are nominated to participate in TAP, a 30-week program where they’re paired with a mentor to develop art lessons and establish paid teaching opportunities in the community. Before the Visionarium, TAP connected V+V artists with community members on a part-time basis, but “there was no way to continue those relationships,” Lipovsky says.

Photograph by Alex Taylor

Now, TAP’s 27 graduates (plus staff and community artists) teach weekly classes at the Visionarium year round, and all ages, abilities, and backgrounds are welcome. “We don’t place restrictions or limitations on who can come and get creative,” Lipovsky says. “It’s just the understanding that everyone is.” By integrating V+V artists and their work into the community, the nonprofit’s ultimate goal to simply be recognized as an arts organization, diverting the focus from the disabilities. “We’re supporting artists and nurturing their talent,” Lipovsky says. “We’re not teachers to them. They get to execute their own vision; we’re just there to play a support role and create a safe space for them to do that.”

V+V Visionarium, 3054 Madison Rd., Oakley, (513) 417-8491,
visionariesandvoices.com/visionarium/

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