JCDS Emerging Artists: A Platform for Artists with Disabilities

All photos by Emily Bordner.

All photos by Emily Bordner.

Tucked away in the Johnson County Art and Heritage Center in Overland Park lies a unique group: The JCDS Emerging Artists. This is an elite group of artists working to hone their craft, find an audience, and earn income from their creative endeavors. It just happens to be comprised exclusively of adults with developmental disabilities or intellectual impairments. Be clear though: they are artists first and foremost.


This program initially started five years ago within Johnson County Developmental Supports (JCDS), then expanded to the Art and Heritage center just over one year ago. It currently has eight core members, but several other individuals that participate in day services with JCDS can engage in a variety of styles of art of their choosing.  A common misconception is that this group’s purpose is therapeutic. While it has helped several of its participants find their unique voice and talents, it is specifically designed to be a means of income.


The artists are supported by two staff who work with them to determine what their preferred medium is, teach new processes and techniques, find out what they hope to get out of the career, and help set them on the path that will make them most successful by focusing on their strengths. The Emerging Artists have previously shown in the UnPlaza Art Fair, First Fridays, downtown, and the Prairie Village Art Show, among others.


The artists have had a variety of successes in many different forms. One of the artists, George, prefers abstract acrylic paintings and had his own art show in Midtown last year. Another, Brad, who leans more towards cartoonist, drew and published a coloring book. He also provided the design for the poster of any upcoming rock festival/fundraiser, Friends Rock, for a group called Friends of JCDS, to help raise money to support other individuals with disabilities.  

Another participant, Andrea, who also has a hearing impairment, uses colored pencils to free hand graphically inspired recreations of photographs or images that people have commissioned. She is particularly adept at fun redesigns of our furry loved ones, as you can see below.


If you wish to find out what works are currently available, or to commission a piece, find them on Facebook.  Feel free to send a private message or make a request on their wall. Additionally, you can contact the director of the program, Cary Odell, at cary.odell@jocogov.org.


So take some time and check out these artists and a program that provides a wholly distinct, supportive, and creatively fulfilling environment for individuals with disabilities.  They’re some of my favorite people and are eager to share their thoughts, work, and experiences to any and all comers. Look for their next appearance on September 14th, 15th, and 16th at the De Soto Sunflower Art Fest.