Artist studios for people with disabilities open in Detroit and Westland

Services to Enhance Potential, or STEP, has developed and launched a new arts program for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities in southeast Michigan. STEP is a Wayne County-based nonprofit that provides support services for people with disabilities and mental health needs.

While they’re largely known for their employment services — linking people with employers, providing job training services, and more — this is a new program for STEP. Dubbed the Progressive Art Studio Collective, or PASC, the arts program aims to not only provide individuals with a creative outlet but a future in the art world, too.

“Just like with any other artists’ studio, the PASC studio is here to help people find their artistic style,” says Anthony Marcellini, project lead for PASC. “In the studio, we’re not trying to hide or mask peoples’ disabilities. People can see and use their disabilities as something that’s positive, something that’s unique to them and their style and their work.”

The program proved so popular that a second PASC studio opened at their Westland location in February.In January 2021, the program launched in Detroit in a space big enough for about seven people, says Marcellini. They’ve since expanded to a new location, providing studio space for 20 to 26 people each day.

The program proved so popular that a second PASC studio opened at their Westland location in February. And a third studio, along with a gallery, is scheduled to open at a STEP-affiliated thrift store in Southgate this April. PASC has been running virtual workshops over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, too.

One of PASC’s goals is to find a permanent studio and gallery space in Detroit, hoping for the right location with lots of foot traffic.

“This is the first progressive art studio in Detroit. It’s a pretty good example of what’s been forgotten in the city,” Marcellini says. Progressive art studio is a term used to describe those studios that let artists find their style and independence on their own, instead of providing them with instructors and menial tasks.

Rather than take a top-down approach, with a teacher leading a class through practice and exercises, the PASC model adopts an open studio methodology. Marcellini and his fellow assistants are there to support and encourage the artists, not instruct them. There are no teachers.

“I think this place will become part of the city’s arts community — not just the disability community.”

PASC has been running virtual workshops over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.The progressive art studio approach eschews a top-down model featuring a teacher and a class. The open studio concept allows for the artists to work on their own projects as they see fit, promoting independence, pride in their work, and fostering each person’s own unique and individual style. Studio assistants might help an artist find a book for reference, or offer words of encouragement, but artists are free to create whatever they want.

The goal is that one day they can begin to exhibit and sell their artworks, too.

“This concept has produced artists exhibited throughout the world,” Marcellini says.

The PASC program fits into STEP’s larger goal of supporting individuals with disabilities pursue their own goals. This includes helping people through the employment process, be it applying and interviewing for jobs or skills training, volunteer programs to connect people with the community, cooking programs, and more.

STEP-affiliated thrift stores and donation centers in Dearborn Heights, Southgate, and Wayne helps the organization raise money and provide employment to their clients at the same time.

“This is the first progressive art studio in Detroit. It’s a pretty good example of what’s been forgotten in the city,” says Anthony Marcellini.The PASC program is available at no cost to individuals with disabilities in Wayne County through Medicaid. Those outside of Wayne County or without Medicaid are eligible for scholarships.

“The artists are more independent here than maybe some other places. They’re producing work that they’re proud of and it’s work that they’re producing independently; we’re not shadowing them,” Marcellini says.

“They’re making the decisions themselves. Whatever they create is intentional.”

Learn more about Services to Enhance Potential and the new Progressive Art Studio Collective online.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.
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