Portland storefront opens art world to disabled adults

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PORTLAND — Creative Trails, a local nonprofit focused on community integration for adults with intellectual disabilities, has expanded to include a program that will allow clients to live an artist’s life.

The Art Department, at 611 Congress St., on the ground floor of the State Theater building, is the brainchild of local artists Liz Mortati and Natalie Conn.

Mortati, a studio artist, and Conn, who works in multi-media arts, were looking to use their own experiences to help Creative Trails clients develop their artistic skills and get their artwork into the community.

 “They both had great visions and dreams for the project,” Lauren Snead, Creative Trails’ Portland leadership program manager, said. “They are both really inspired and talented visionaries who had dreams of pursuing their passion while fully integrating the mission of Creative Trails.”

Through programs in the arts, agriculture, outdoor experiences, horsemanship and more, Snead said, Creative Trails guides clients toward more independent lives.

“What community integration looks like for us is providing opportunities for people to have a full and enriching experience,” she said.

With its location in the heart of the city’s Arts District, participants have the chance to live the life of an artist – visiting galleries, working with guest artists and working on their own projects.

“In the morning we start the day by going to Coffee By Design, sitting and having coffee, reflecting and brainstorming what their artistic vision for the day is,” Snead recounts. “From there the day could be anything from going to a gallery to working on a project.”

According to Mortati, the inspiration for The Art Department came from highly successful First Friday Art Walk showings of work created in two Creative Trails projects: Open Studio and the Shoot Media Project.

“During First Friday every month so many people would come up to see the work of the artists because it is so different from any other art work that is available in Portland,” she said.

At the opening of The Art Department on Jan. 6, the space was packed with 200 people. Visitors had the chance to view different collaborative installations, including the book cover project “Every Single Pages,” while listening to music and enjoying local food, beer and wine.

“I can’t imagine it having gone any better,” Snead said. “People kept telling me that this was the place to be tonight and they really enjoyed the urban Americana feel, saying it is something you see in places like New York, but not often in Portland.”

In the future The Art Department hopes to work with local artists on workshops and create collaborative installations. The organizers also want to continue to consistently participate in First Friday Art Walks, hold more public screenings and art shows and extend their presence further than First Fridays.

“The ultimate goal is to provide clients a sophisticated and meaningful experience, to build a relationship between the clients and community members,” Snead said. “We want to really create a circulation of people coming through, to be at the heart and hub of things. By being fully immersed, you really start to build relationships. Ultimately each artist will have their own product line or film series that we can promote with screenings, in the retail store or at First Friday.”

Amber Cronin is The Forecaster news assistant. She can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 115 or acronin@theforecaster.net. Follow Amber on Twitter: @croninamber.

Sidebar Elements


Team leader Liz Mortati, one of the two local artists who created the concept for The Art Department, readies for the grand opening on Jan. 6.

The Art Department, the new location for Creative Trails’ Open Studio and Shoot Media Projects, sits right in the heart of the Portland arts district on the ground floor of the State Theater building.

About 200 people attended the grand opening of The Art Department on Jan. 6; the new space was packed wall to wall from 5-9 p.m, with several people waiting in line to enter.

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