Studio by the Tracks is a studio and gallery for artists with Autism Spectrum Disorders. They provide a social network and a career path that enriches their artists’ lives and betters our community. The Studio provides all services and materials to their artists free of charge, and the artists receive 60% of any sale of their art works. I had a great talk with Director Catherine Boyd and Art Director Katie Thompson last week about the studio and more.
Your vision ART FOR ALL - What does that mean?
Catherine: It means two things. First of all, our program is specifically for adults with autism spectrum disorders, that is the criteria for being a student here. One part of our mission is to broaden the definition of who can be considered an artist. Some of the people who come here might not have thought that a career in art was a possibility for them. We want to show that you can be a person with autism and also be a professional artists. Second, we see that the art our artists produce has a very broad appeal. Many people might be a little bit intimidated by the idea of going into a gallery and buy a piece of art, but the art that is made here tends to be very approachable and have a real human touch to it that I think people feel.
I met you at Artrageous which is a fundraiser for IIDAs (International Interior Designers Association) foundation. How did that partnership start?
Catherine: That is all thanks to graphic designer Alicia Roden! She has been a friend of Studio by the tracks for years and she's done graphic design work in the past for us. She was working with IIDA and knew that they were looking for a beneficiary for their fundraiser. She brought up Studio by the tracks and they liked the idea of the creative aspect, it fits with their mission. The first year they asked us to bring a few pieces of our art to their auction and the bids were very high on those pieces. After that they have asked us to bring more, and I think we took between 10 and 15 pieces with us this year. Not only will those proceeds go back to our artists, but they also give us a portion of what they make the entire night.
Is that mainly how the studio is funded, by fundraisers?
Catherine: Yes, from fundraisers and from grants, corporate donations and private donations. We don't receive any government funding. We organize two main fundraisers ourselves. We raise probably over 50% of our budget at our event called Art from the heart which is in June and attract hundreds of people. We rent a space and auction off our students artwork but also artwork that's been donated by other local artists.
Katie: We also have a new membership program. Many people that have been longtime supporters of Studio by the tracks have their house full of art so this is a new way to still support us. We have several levels: $10 a month, $20 a month, $50 a month and an annual $1200 option. Each of these comes with different perks like 10% off your purchases in our retail store in Homewood and early entry to our holiday open house because there is usually a long line!
For how long has the store in Homewood been open, and how is that working out?
Katie: It's been open since September this year and it's been just great! We're open Fridays noon to seven and Saturdays ten to four every weekend, but we will adjust that for the holidays. It gives our supporters access to our artwork in a way that they've never had access to it before. At our events it can be a little bit chaotic (in a good way!) but here you can take your time, ask questions about the studio and the individual artists.
You mentioned the annual holiday open house, when is that?
Katie: That is coming up very soon, November 15th. It is a little bit chaotic with the lines but it really is such a great night, where you can have a glass of wine and do all your Christmas shopping. The products are made by our artists, staff and a couple of community artists that come and help put together some really special, unique gifts you won't find anywhere else. And that's why people line up around the block and deal with the crowd because it really is worth it.
The studio has been open for almost 30 years, what is the biggest difference between then and now?
Catherine: I first started here in 1995 and then took some time off but I have been back for 12 years now so I have really been able to see the growth. The amount of students that we can serve has gone up which is wonderful and we have more staff now. The main change is that there is a greater demand for our program by young adults with autism that live either with their parents or independently. For these folks, we provide a source of social interaction, validation, and potential career path that can be hard to find. Here, they're defined not by their autism, but by their identity as an artist.
How can an aspiring artist become a part of Studio by the tracks?
Catherine: We do not have any open spots at the moment but give us a call or send us an email anyway because it does open up from time to time. Since we are a studio for adults with autism spectrum disorder a diagnosis of autism is a primary but you also need to have a desire to do art and really commit to that for an hour and a half every week. This is not an activity to kill some time. Our job is to help channel and open up creative doors, to provide a social network and career path that enriches our artists lives and offer them a way to make some income.
Do you have any big plans for the anniversary next year?
Katie: We have started to talk about that but right now all the focus is on the holiday open house. Once we get past that we will start the planning, but we definitely want to make it special!
And where do you see the studio at the 40 year anniversary?
Katie: We want to serve more students, have even more avenues for selling their art, and a broader base of customers would be great. The biggest dream is to see this program replicated in other cities. For us to be a medium sized city and to have an organization like this is really special and we would love to show other - and bigger - cities how it can be done.
So, how does the neighborhood here in Irondale contribute to the studio and vice versa?
Catherine: It's great to be a part of a community, we know the police officers, we know the folks down at City Hall. We have made some great partnerships, for example with Tower Homes which we met through the Irondale Chamber of Commerce. They use a lot of our artists’ art in their model homes. The Irondale Arts Council has invited one of our artists to join as a member. We like to enjoy the local events around here, and there are several Facebook groups that help us promote our events. We love being here, we love Irondale!