New Blockfort exhibit features groups that serve artists with developmental disabilities

George Riffle has been making art since he was a little kid. Inspirations for his work come from many sources, and are made manifest in a variety of media, including painting, digital art, marker and 3D mixed-media work. But regardless of what form the works take, what makes it truly his comes from inside.

“I follow my heart in my art,” said Riffle, who has been making art at Art Outside the Lines for about two years, and is also a resident teaching artist there. “When I feel a certain way — angry or peaceful — I turn it into art.”

This approach is confirmed when Art Outside the Lines program manager Bianca Brutovski asks the gathered studio artists in their daily closing meeting, “What is the most important reason why we're here?” The collective reply comes, “Our hearts!”

Art Outside the Lines is one of three studio collectives participating in the “All About Town” exhibition this month at Blockfort. (A reception will be held Thursday, Jan. 10, in the gallery space. The exhibition will remain on view through Jan. 27.)

For this show, Riffle's work, as well as that by artists at Art Outside the Lines, Goodwill Art Studio and Open Door Studio & Gallery, each of which serves artists with developmental disabilities, focuses on places. Whether created en plein air or from photographs, most of the work concerns locations around Columbus, home to most of the artists, and a place to which they again intend to announce their presence.

“It's one of our primary goals, to get the artists out of our own space and reach a much larger audience in the community,” AOtL manager Lea Barker said.

“The ways our programs work are all a little different, but our main goals are the same: pushing our artists into the community,” said Claire Smith, creative mentor and studio registrar at Open Door. “This show is really about how [our artists] see their community and how the community receives them.”

“Part of taking art and artists very seriously is to provide a professional quality art experience. We've been fortunate to get our shows into very competitive spaces,” Goodwill Art Studio Manager Deborah Griffing said. “The goal is always to go beyond and be engaged with the rest of Columbus.”

The idea to collaborate grew out of regular conversations among the three studio representatives and Adam Brouillette, who owns and operates Blockfort. “It's the first time all three of our programs have shown together,” Open Door's Smith said.

“We had a thought to offer the community a chance to see the differences and similarities in the kind of artwork that can be made and does get made in our studios,” Griffing said.

Barker said that AOtL incorporated the ideas of place and space into their monthly themes, in which they offer artists prompts to encourage or focus the artists' work. From there, they proceeded as with any show, providing deadlines and tasks, such as preparing artist statements and pricing, so the artists “understand the full process and develop not just their artistic skill but also their marketing and organizational skills.”

“We're working artists, so it's important not only to do the work but make connections with other artists and art spaces in the community,” Smith said.

Riffle said he remembers having his art on display when he was young, and that the excitement of showing to others hasn't changed.

“Yes, I want people to see my art,” he said.