In 2001, Visionaries + Voices (V+V) started as a grassroots effort among social workers in the area, who were astounded by the art created by people with disabilities in their homes. The supporters made connections with local galleries to showcase these works, and the shows created enough momentum to establish a studio-gallery space specifically for these artists. In 2003, V+V opened its doors at Essex Studios in Walnut Hills, and today the organization calls Northside its home.
What began with a simple vision to create a space for artists with disabilities has now become home for hundreds of local artists. Today, V+V serves more than 150 artists each week and presents numerous exhibitions each year.
Inclusion and representation is V+V’s main mission, and that’s a goal accomplished by an ambitious and passionate group of people. Cincinnati Parent spoke to Robyn Winkler, V+V’s executive director, about why inclusion and art matters, and what’s next for the future of this visionary nonprofit.
Your mission is to provide creative, professional and educational opportunities for people with disabilities. How does V+V do that?
We fulfill our mission in three major ways. [Our studio program] provide(s) studio space for artists to create work in a supportive environment. Most studio staff hold BFAs in print making, ceramics, painting and drawing. Local artists generously volunteer their time and expertise, as well. In the V+V studios, instructors are resourceful and committed to facilitating the work each artist is driven to make.
[Our exhibition program] host[s] five exhibitions annually in the Northside Gallery, in addition to our annual art auction gala, Double Vision. The Corner Gallery features work from artists based in V+V’s Tri-County studio and is in the Frame USA retail store (225 Northland Blvd., Springdale). Helping to connect broader audiences to the work made in our studios, V+V artists regularly exhibit in galleries, museums, businesses, restaurants and universities.
[Finally, our education program] expands opportunities for [our] artists who have an interest in teaching, speaking and public leadership positions in visual art. The Teaching Artist Program (TAP) supports those goals, while offering the community the opportunity to learn about art from a unique perspective. Artists who complete TAP courses bring lesson plans to classrooms, community centers and partnering organizations all over Greater Cincinnati.
Art is a uniting force in V+V’s mission. Why are the arts so important to what you do?
Art is important because we use it as a method for community, outreach and advancement. Our gallery is a platform for integration where work is shown on equal ground by artists with and without disabilities.
What programs does V+V offer kids?
V+V offers a variety of studio and education programming for families. While V+V’s Visionarium closed in Aug. 2019, parents can find numerous classes in Northside and other Cincinnati locations. For example, V+V’s PopPop story time/art class is offered at Blue Manatee Literacy Project, and times can be found at bluemanatee.org.
What are your long-term goals for V+V?
V+V is always looking to increase community engagement. We hope to do this is by eventually extending our operating hours to include weekend art programming. This expansion will allow us to take a greater step forward by moving the community from awareness, to understanding, to belonging.
By integrating V+V artists and their work into the community, our ultimate goal is simply to be recognized as an arts organization, diverting the focus from the disabilities.