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'You're an artist first;' artists with disabilities pursue dream jobs through Johnson County art programs

Emerging Artists Program
Posted at 8:00 AM, Dec 07, 2023

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — Two art programs in Johnson County are empowering artists with disabilities to pursue their dream jobs. The artists in those programs, called Paper Crete Works and Emerging Artists, are making and selling their art right now.

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Both programs are within Johnson County Developmental Supports. The goal is to hire artists who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. It teaches them job and life skills and allows them to interact with their community.

“I taught myself. And then I also taught lessons,” artist Brad Friedman with Emerging Artists said. “I’ve drawn hundreds of different sizes, and shapes, and colors.”

Friedman said he’s been an artist for decades. His visions are painted with purpose for the program.

“I like to paint and draw. Mostly landscapes, mountains, flowers on fields and on vases,” he said.

He and other students said they feel pride when they see their artwork on display. Paper Crete Works artist Kiya Hiebert proudly showed of the garden gnomes he made.

“Very fulfilling,” he said. “Makes me happy.”

But each stroke shows off more than just skill.
“it’s just important for them to know they can get out in the community and do their dream job,” Paper Crete Works coordinator Deanna Smith said. “They learn everything from job training skills, the formula, how to make the papercrete, and of course the fun stuff, which is your painting, decorating and selling.”

It’s an experience with so much to learn.

“You’re treated as an artist, not a person with a disability,” Kristen Devlin, Emerging Artists Coordinator said. “You’re definitely an artist first in our room.”

After all, art is your story to draw, for others to see.