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Gallery provides platform to help artists with disabilities make a living


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    DENVER, Colorado (KCNC) — It’s First Friday and Sante Fe Arts District is packed with people admiring local creations. When they buy from Access Gallery, they’re supporting one of the city’s most vulnerable, and talented, populations. The gallery aims to combat ableism through art.

This First Friday is artist Nicole Vanston’s first solo exhibit: “Dragon and Dinosaur Utopia.”

Vanston says her passion for drawing mystical creatures has made a real impact on her life.

“It feels like it’s releasing me from my frustration,” explained Vanston. “I can stay calm and be steady and concentrate on my artwork.”

While art calms her nerves, it sparks something in people who see it.

The gallery was packed Friday with people ready to purchase from her exhibit.

“They say like ‘oh I like that dragon! I want to buy that one!’ And they really want to buy that one that they like!” said Vanston. “It makes me feel good.”

Helping develop artists to the point where they can sell their work is the mission of Access Gallery.

The inclusive nonprofit organization engages the community by opening doors to creative, educational and economic opportunities.

They provide a platform for differently abled creators that’s much needed.

“People with disabilities in this country are unemployed at a rate of 70 to 90%” said Damon McLeese, executive director at Access Gallery.

He says they support about 40 artists with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

“We sell enough art that people get a monthly check. We have a stipend program where everyone that participates gets enough money to at least cover their transportation costs here,” explained McLeese. “The artists get a commission. Some of our artists we’re starting to put onto payroll here and then we’re working in the arts community to help some of our artists get jobs in places that aren’t here.”

Vanston doesn’t have a job, but selling art helps her afford the basics.

Most of pieces are between $100 to $200. Some of them take weeks to complete.

“My artwork helps me. I want to keep doing this forever,” said Vanston.

Access Gallery is a free and open to the public. You can visit for art walks on the first and third Friday of each month. For more information visit the official website.

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