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0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f739cf0000Arts & More airs Fridays at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.Theme music: "Like A Beginner Again" by Dan Barry of Seas of Jupiter

MRC Provides Jobs For Artists With Disabilities, Mental Illness

On Kalamazoo Mall, MRC Artworks looks like any other art gallery. It’s got acrylic paintings, jewelry, and pottery. But MRC doesn’t just sell art—it provides jobs for about 60 people living with disabilities or mental illness.

Jeanne Hoard wearing the shirt she designed for the Kalamazoo Klassic 10-K Run
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK
Jeanne Hoard wearing the shirt she designed for the Kalamazoo Klassic 10-K Run

If you have a t-shirt from this year’s Kalamazoo Klassic 10-K run, you’re already familiar with Jeanne Hoard’s work. She designed the picture on the front. It’s a woman crossing the finish line with her hands in the air.

Her shirt was picked out of more than 20 different designs. Hoard says she has run in the race before and was very excited when her design was chosen.

Heidi Sluyter has worked at MRC Artworks for about three years. She says each artist brings their own perspective to painting. When MRC opens its doors for Art Hop…

“People are blown away. We have a lot of regulars that follow certain artists and will buy paintings before the paint is barely dry. They come in and seek out certain artists,” she says. “The most special part about our work I think is it’s whimsical and fun and always very colorful. And we try to keep it very affordable, so that everyone can buy art too.”

Eric DeKoekkoek is currently working on a commissioned piece with dinosaurs.

“I work at McDonalds downtown. One of my coworkers and her husband, they had already had bought a painting of mine of some turtles and crabs. And when their granddaughter saw that painting, they were really interested in getting a piece of my artwork,” he says.

Danielle Fales is an art instructor at MRC. She says 75 percent of their art sales go to the artist. The other 25 percent pays for art supplies.

Fales says MRC may be a non-profit, but there’s a business to what they do. Instructors want the artists to get paid, so they encourage them to paint what’s popular right now.

“We went through the owl stage, we went through the frog stage. Octopuses were really big last winter, we went through that stage. So we just try to stay up on the art trends and really encourage our artists to do those,” she says.

Fales says getting paid gives the artists a sense of accomplishment. It also helps them to feel more independent. Even if it’s just enough to afford a meal out with their families.

But Jordan Hammond says it’s not all about the money: 

“It’s about how you may touch their hearts or whatever you’ve done through the artwork,” he says.

Hammond likes to paint scary scenes with monsters and ghosts. He recently sold a painting of Jack Skellington—a character from the Tim Burton movie The Nightmare Before Christmas.

“I think art has really really helped me express myself and how sometimes you go through things that are not easy to get over. These people have helped—besides my art—has helped me to get over some of the obstacles I’ve been through." 

Cynthia Andrews is working on a picture of tulips for the Tulip Festival contest in Holland. She made it to the top 20 artists in the contest last year. 

And Andrews isn’t the only award winner in the group. Meghan Matthews won a spot in ArtPrize through the Legacy Trust Award Collection. Fales says every year, judges choose four artists with disabilities from around the state to display their work at the Grand Rapids event.

“A lot of times people will go and pick their pieces up and bring them home, but Meghan’s was bought. A lady bought her artwork. So not only did she win the contest and receive the award money from that, but she also sold her painting,” says Fales.

Hammond says it’s a shame that so many people underestimate the talent of adults with disabilities.

“I mean it’s inspiring for me that we all have disabilities and we come here and we all show our talents that we all have gotten from our families and all that,” he says.

The MRC Artworks gallery is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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