Smile Politely

A collective community

Community Choices is a non-profit organization that supports those with disabilities on their way to independence, choice and opportunity. Community Choices is hosting its second annual The Artists’ Collective: Art Show & Sale fundraiser at the Indi Go Artist Co-op from Thursday, May 21th, until Friday, May 29th.

For being a relatively small organization, having only been around for about six years, this event has grown considerably in just one year. Executive Director Jennifer Knapp said the fundraiser currently has 14 sponsors compared to last year’s seven. “We’re stepping it up,” she said.

Community Choices is all about diversity, and the fundraiser works to reflect this. “What we’re really excited about is that the show is made up of a mix of people both with and without disabilities, so the focus is on art, not disability,” Knapp said. “We really want people to be able to express their art in whatever way that they do.”

The show will range from watercolor paintings to photography, and the prices of such work will range from $10 to $600. Participating artists have the option to donate their pieces, split the profits of sold pieces with Community Choices, or submit their pieces as “display-only.” Artwork submitted will also include ceramics, drawings, jewelry, and cross-stich.

Despite the growth and variety of the art show and sale, Knapp and the rest of Community Choices have been most excited about the show’s community outreach. Knapp said she would be “super happy” if even 100 people came to The Artists’ Collective compared to last year’s approximately 80 guests, when the event was held at Institute 4 Creativity in Champaign. “Our members will come, but we really hope we can start reaching the broader community.”

This new fundraiser is a big step up from the internal events Community Choices usually does. “It’s been a really fun way to engage that next level of community member because most of the events we’ve done in the past have been more internal. This art show is really our first attempt to start reaching the broader community. We do a chili cook-off every year and then, several years ago, we did an event at Boltini,” Knapp said. Community Choices has also participated in events like Champaign’s disABILITY Resource Expo for those with disabilities in the East Central Illinois area. Knapp has been involved with the Expo since it first started in 2007.

Knapp has had a lot of fun with the community outreach and the close-knit art scene of Champaign-Urbana. “Honestly, it’s just been fun to be able to talk about Community Choices with some different people. Seeing really our work as a community effort as opposed to just what we’re doing and having other people be involved has been the most exciting.”

For those who may not be familiar with Community Choices, it orients itself around inclusivity by helping those with disabilities live full lives. It helps them move out of their family homes and into their own places, get jobs and have social opportunities. “Our goal is to help people access the community just like other people do, and we don’t want to create more disability-specific things. We want to encourage people to get involved in art clubs or dance or poker or whatever other people are doing as opposed to having specific, separate disability things,” Knapp said.

Knapp says the Community Choices attitude toward disabilities is, “‘Yeah! Own it!’ Own who you are and let us help figure out how to support you because there is support that’s needed.” It wants its members to be comfortable with how they work in the world, to be comfortable in their own skins and not let society make them feel ashamed about their differences.

“It’s always a balancing act,” Knapp said. “Each person has their own comfort level with how they’re disclosing what’s going on with them, but I think a part of inclusion is accepting differences.”

The Indi Go Artist Co-op is located at 9 E. University Avenue in Champaign. Tickets are $15 per person. Artwork is available for purchase throughout the show’s duration.

Community Choices is located at 44 E. Main, Suite 206, in Champaign. To learn more about it, please visit its website.

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