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SAGE Studio Amplifies Marginalized Artists’ Voices + Promotes Inclusivity

Photo by Chelsea Francis

By Bethanie Hestermann

Creativity is for everyone. (We feel this in our bones!) SAGE Studio is a Texas-based creative space for artists with intellectual + developmental disabilities, and cofounders Lucy Gross and Katie Stahl are on a mission to create a more inclusive art scene in Austin and beyond. Lucy says for a long time, artists with disabilities have been deemed “outsiders,” but SAGE provides the perfect platform for these marginalized artists to create, exhibit, and sell their artwork.

Each SAGE artist has a voice, a process, an aesthetic worth celebrating. SAGE studio amplifies these voices + creates opportunities for artists with disabilities to pursue careers in the arts. SAGE cofounder Lucy shares more about this wonderful endeavor in today’s Q&A + previews SAGE’s upcoming exhibition, TANDEM. 

Artwork by Emily Dodson

What inspired you and Katie to found SAGE Studio?

Katie and I met about 10 years ago working at an art-focused day program for adults with disabilities. We both connected over shared aesthetic sensibilities and were really blown away by some of the work being created there. However, we wanted to widen the audience for these incredible talents and integrate them into the contemporary art scene in Austin. We kept in touch, and in 2017, we started working with one of the artists we had met back then (Rick Fleming!) at my kitchen table. We’ve since moved into a small studio and gallery space in East Austin and are lucky to be in a compound with many working artists. We continue to be inspired by other programs across the country like Creative Growth and LAND Gallery!

What was your vision when creating the program?

My professional background is social work, and there is a practice of “person-first” language in that field, meaning you identify the person prior to the disability—i.e., a “person with autism” vs. “an autistic person.” I think SAGE builds on that ideology. We are a contemporary art gallery first, and our artists are first and foremost artists. They are all connected by having the diagnosis of some sort of intellectual or developmental disability, but we want to highlight their talent and voice above all else. 

Willie Nelson by Rick Fleming

What’s the most rewarding part of running SAGE?

We definitely have a niche, and it can feel isolating at times. Recently, SAGE has been really lucky to connect with other progressive studios across the country, and having that community is incredibly rewarding. It’s also afforded us the opportunity to exhibit artists from outside Texas who we’ve long admired!

How do you connect with artists to feature/exhibit?

It varies; sometimes we seek out artists (Instagram is a really great tool for connection). We also have an application for artists on our website!

Artist Rick Fleming

What is the main goal of SAGE Studio?

SAGE Studio’s mission is to create a platform for marginalized artists with disabilities to create, exhibit, and sell their work. We hope to create a more inclusive and egalitarian space in the art world for these fantastic artists. 

How has SAGE Studio changed your life?

SAGE very much started as a passion project for both Katie and myself. Until recently, I have been teaching full time and working at SAGE evenings and weekends. Next year, I’m thrilled to be able to say I’m going to be teaching part time and have the chance to devote more time to the studio and gallery! Beyond the scheduling technicalities, SAGE has given me the opportunity to travel to New York and California to participate in the Outsider Art Fair and Creative Growth’s symposium. The best thing has been the people it’s brought into my life—other gallerists, the families, the artists! Rick and Katie are two of my closest friends, and I feel so lucky that I get to work with them. 

What has been one of the biggest moments for your studio?

In October, Rick Fleming was commissioned by the Joe Biden presidential campaign to make a drawing of the (then) Vice President for a tote that sold through the campaign webstore. Rick also had the opportunity to meet Biden over Zoom to talk about his art and SAGE. An artist like Rick being recognized on such a huge platform was incredible. Rick is a longtime Biden supporter, so it was extra exciting for him, his family, and SAGE! 

Any future plans/dreams for SAGE?

In August, SAGE is launching our first-ever exhibition where we have paired each of our artists with a working, neurotypical artist from Austin. The show, TANDEM, is an effort to cultivate new levels of inclusion and community. Katie and I both want to continue this type of work and foster relationships between the artists at SAGE and the greater Austin creative community. 

What would you like for people to know about your artists?

SAGE artists are all individuals. Their styles, studio practices, and personalities are all their own and all unique, just like any artist! 

How can our readers support you + your artists?

Folks can check out our website to read more about our artists and check out our webstore. I’m biased, but I also think we’re a great Instagram follow!

Art by King Nobuyoshi Godwin

What would you like to see more of in the art community?

I think diversity and inclusion are things we are all striving for, especially now. In art, we’re constantly examining the “canon” and reworking our idea of who and what belongs. For a long time, artists with disabilities have been deemed “outsider artists” but that term posits that there is an “inside” or a norm. 

Follow along with SAGE Studio on Instagram at @sagestudioatx!

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