Urban Artisans


Urban Artisans

1505 North Delaware Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Phone: 317.974.4123
Fax: 317.974.4124
E-Mail: info@artmixindiana.org
URL: artmixindiana.org

Focus: Visual Arts

Annual Number Participating: 80–90

Ages: High School

Annual Budget: $92,500

Partners: Ben Davis High School, Wayne Township Schools; Franklin Central High School, Franklin Township Schools; Gallery 116; Nickel Plate Arts; Pike High School, Pike Township Schools; The Bungalow Inc.

Funders: Indiana First Lady’s Charitable Foundation; Kennedy Center (This program is provided under a contract with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.); Lilly Endowment, Inc.; The Glick Fund, a Central Indiana Community Foundation Fund; The Indianapolis Foundation

It’s Monday, and seven high school students are seated around the table in a ceramics studio in downtown Indianapolis, going over that day’s goals: glaze an order of flowerpots, perform an inventory of supplies, clean the studio, and load the kiln. Indeed, the studio turns out beautiful pots, bowls, and platters. However, the main goal of this program, known as Urban Artisans, goes beyond training young professional artists. The ceramics studio is a venue for young people with intellectual or developmental disabilities to “learn vocational skills and to help prepare them for life,” explains Linda Wisler, vice president of programs for ArtMix, an Indianapolis-based organization (formerly known as VSA Indiana) that employs “art to redefine disability.”

Young people with disabilities face enormous barriers when it comes to finding and keeping a job. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is about 65 percent, or nearly 12 times higher than the national average for all workers. ArtMix seeks to help level the playing field through its intensive, year-long Urban Artisans program. Schools and social service agencies refer teens and young adults with disabilities and an interest in art. (The inclusive program also accepts some participants without diagnosed disabilities.)

These interns typically work in small groups in ArtMix’s pottery studios, spending three mornings a week during the school year and four mornings a week in the summer. In addition to creating pieces that are sold in ArtMix’s shop and at area craft galleries, they also complete commissions for businesses and organizations. As the young artisans proceed through the multiple steps of the pottery-making process, they learn how to set goals, organize tasks, interact with teammates, and accept constructive criticism from their teaching artists, who serve as mentors.

The participants receive a stipend for their work. And, as they gain confidence and transferable skills in the environment of a professional clay studio, they’re better equipped to fulfill the responsibilities of a job in the community at large. According to ArtMix, within a year of graduating, about 30 percent of the program’s interns find employment. In addition, 34 percent continue their education in vocational schools or community colleges.

When Cody began working at Urban Artisans, he was quiet, shy, and unsure of himself. He has just blossomed there. By learning to make these beautiful objects that people really want to buy, his self-confidence has grown—not just in art, but in all aspects of life. He has become much more outgoing with his peers and learned responsibility and leadership.

Becky Feldman mother of an Urban Artisans participant