Walk into the Shared Lives Studio across from Fifth Third Field in downtown Toledo and you’ll be greeted by colorful dragonflies, funky coffee mugs, eclectic jewelry, striking photography, and original paintings — both whimsical and serious.
You can also see the artists at work — drawing, painting, and creating as music plays in the background.
The scene is much the same at the aptly named Kan Du Studio on South Main Street in downtown Findlay, where artists such as Taryn Bregel find inspiration and a market for their artwork.
The 20-year-old Findlay woman was working on the top for a pedestal table and explained that if a customer buys it, "I’ll get half of the money because someone else painted the background."
PHOTO GALLERY: Kan Du and Shared Lives studios
All of the Kan Du artists are clients of the Hancock County Board of Developmental Disabilities. All are proving they can do art and do it beautifully.
"The Kan Du names fits us so well," said Regina Stewart, studio manager. "Someone may think they can’t, but we give them the confidence that they can do it."
Hancock County launched its art program in 2007, patterning it loosely after Passion Works Studio in Athens, Ohio, one of the first art programs in the state for developmentally disabled adults. The Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities started Shared Lives in 2008 as one of several new employment options for Lott Industries workers displaced by the closing of Ford Motor Co.’s Maumee Stamping Plant.
Like Kan Du, Shared Lives began operating at the sheltered workshop where many clients work but eventually moved into downtown studios with storefront galleries that attract walk-in customers who otherwise would never have found them.
"It’s such an incredible building where people can come and see our work, buy our work, and see our artists at work," said Lori Schoen, art director at Shared Lives Studio, 20 N. St. Clair St. "We get a lot of out-of-town traffic. People have been very supportive."
Connie Ament, superintendent of the Hancock County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said Findlay and Hancock County also have embraced the artists and their artwork, particularly the three-dimensional metal stars that have become Kan Du’s signature product.
The art programs use as much recycled material as they can in their work. Shared Lives uses newspaper printing plates to create one-of-a-kind clocks, while Kan Du uses the plates for its iconic stars.
Ms. Ament said art programs like Kan Du and Shared Lives are changing lives — both of the artists and the community members they interact with, whether in the studio, at downtown restaurants where they go for lunch, or around town where they do community service projects.
"This has allowed people to express themselves and show their talent in a way that otherwise isn’t possible," Ms. Ament said.
Toledoan Roxanne Bartlett said her daughter, Anna, used to hole up in her room after school before she started coming to Shared Lives about two years ago. Now, she spends her days drawing and photographing the animals she loves.
"Her attitude’s been changed. She’s getting out more," Mrs. Bartlett said. "She doesn’t have to be here until 9 a.m., but she gets up at 5:30 or 6 to get ready. She really loves it."
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.