Creative Growth artist William Tyler (image courtesy i am OTHER)

Creative Growth artist William Tyler (image courtesy i am OTHER)

If you’re an art-loving person, there’s a good chance you’ve seen work by artists from the Creative Growth Art Center. Their art has been shown in galleries and museums worldwide; you might, for instance, have strolled past some of it at last fall’s Rosemarie Trockel retrospective at the New Museum. But you might not know just what the Creative Growth Center is, or what it does, or who the artists are. Whereas a big part of being an artist these days is writing statements and attending fairs and networking, the artists at the Creative Growth center don’t really do that. All of them are adults with developmental, mental, or physical disabilities, and the center, founded in Oakland in 1974, offers them a place to harness their creativity and make art.

In the debate over outsider art, the question of the artist’s intentions is often identified as an important factor. But so much of the time, we’re talking about artists who’ve died and can’t speak for themselves. When we do discuss the ones living and working today, their voices are usually absent, or present only through the work.

In a series launching tomorrow on Pharrell Williams’s i am OTHER YouTube channel, filmmaker Cheryl Dunn changes that a little, by going behind the scenes at the Creative Growth Center. Dunn began spending time there seven years ago, shooting footage, curating shows, producing benefits, and getting to know the artists. “I remember the first time I walked in the door when artists were summoning me from across the room to show me their work,” she wrote in an email. “They would pull me over to look in the gallery and talk about their work on the walls. Over time, I learned what a portal of communication the artwork was for most of these artists, who, in the outside world, had difficult times communicating. Some were nonverbal their whole lives.”

Dunn said that when i am OTHER approached her asking if she had ideas for the web channel, a series about Creative Growth seemed like “a natural fit.”

“The concept aligns very well with Pharell’s i am Other credo and the fact that I could introduce artists, their work and also have the opportunity to continue the stories by getting deeper into their lives, was very exciting,” she wrote.

The series consists of two parts: profiles of the artists, which give them a chance to talk about their art and us an opportunity to see who these incredibly talented people are, as well as their short films and animations. The full series launches tomorrow, but Hyperallergic has the pleasure of debuting two videos today. One is an endearing profile of the artist Gerone Spruill, in which he explains the genesis of some of his characters, raps smoothly, shows off a pair of new platform shoes, and tells us that his mind “reacts like a time machine.”

The other is an animation called “Cat and Chicken” by William Tyler, a beautifully drawn episode in black and white that depicts a cat and a chicken hanging out and going swimming.

More videos like these will go up tomorrow, and we can’t wait to watch them. Dunn wrote that her experiences at Creative Growth “have changed me immensely,” and the center has no doubt changed the lives of the artists, too. This is our window onto their world.

Cheryl Dunn’s series Creative Growth launches on the i am OTHER YouTube channel tomorrow.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...