By Jerry Slayton.
The January Artist of the Month is SAGE Studio, an art gallery and studio in Austin, Texas which promotes inclusivity and integrates artists with disabilities into the contemporary local art scene. On Friday, I sat down via Zoom with the studio’s co-founders, Katie Stahl and Lucy Gross to understand the story behind their mission.
The Mission and Growth of SAGE Studio
“We started our programming in January 2017… then we moved into our first space in June of 2018,” said Stahl.
During that first 18-month stretch of getting SAGE Studio up and running, all programs were conducted within Gross’s home.
The first artist SAGE Studio worked with was Rick Fleming. He creates drawings and paintings on canvas, as well as other miscellaneous objects. Having known Rick previously, Stahl and Gross knew Rick’s artwork was a great fit to launch the studio.
After reaching out to Art Spark Texas to find more artists who reside in the Lone Star State, they met their second artist, David Sulak. His drawings and sculptures are deeply personal and representational of his daily life and the memories he cherishes. Like Fleming, Sulak’s artwork helped convey the ethos of SAGE Studio, that artists should be identified by their work and not their diagnosis.
Having found talented artists that accurately represented their cause, Stahl and Gross still needed a physical location to host exhibitions.
In June of 2018, while searching on Craigslist, they stumbled across a shipping container for rent. It might not have been what they originally had in mind when they set out to find a gallery and space, but after closer examination they realized it was just what they needed to grow their mission.
“The idea of paying rent on a space was daunting… at that point we were completely self-funded and so it felt like a leap into the unknown… it turned out that it was the perfect size for us, and the location was great, and the community was supportive of us… so it worked out in this really lovely way,” said Stahl.
For almost two years SAGE Studio held classes and exhibitions in their beautiful, yet tiny, gallery. I had the pleasure of attending several of these events myself. The shipping container was a unique venue and offered a certain charm; a mysterious steel box on the outside filled with personal artwork and meaningfulness, on the inside.
Delicate weavings by artist, Anna Burke, handmade puppets by Sam Eiler and abstract paintings by Charlie French, are just a few examples. My personal favorite was the T-shirts designed by Rick Fleming. I own two T-shirts and have bought several as gifts for others.
By the spring of 2020, SAGE Studio had already outgrown the tiny shipping container and Stahl and Gross jumped at the opportunity to relocate to Canopy Austin on Springdale Road.
Canopy is a creative community set within a redeveloped East Austin warehouse and has become a hub for the contemporary Austin art scene; housing artist studios, creative office spaces, art galleries and a café. The creative atmosphere at Canopy will ultimately connect more patrons to SAGE Studio.
“The move to Canopy felt like an important step for us to make even though the timing wasn’t ideal due to Covid,” said Gross.
Next for SAGE Studio was to become a non-profit organization.
Transitioning to a 501(c)(3) status caused them to re-examine their mission statement, reflect and find areas for growth. It was the mission statement of a similar studio that inspired them.
“We use language like ‘neurodiverse artists’ and ‘artists with disabilities’ but it is our hope that in the future we won’t have to make that distinction,” said Stahl, quoting Summertime, a gallery and studio located in Brooklyn, New York.
“We really want the artists we work with to exist as artists,” said Stahl.
Stahl and Gross want to hold tight to their end goal of having people outside the social services world and disability community visit SAGE Studio to simply enjoy the work of the artists. Their move to Canopy will do just that, integrating these two communities.
As they move forward, SAGE Studio’s primary focus will be to seek opportunities for, and exhibit the work of, their artists and others, whether it be virtual shows or hybrid shows, both in-person and online.
Learn more about SAGE Studio, how they’re supporting inclusivity and artists with disabilities in the Austin community and browse their gallery by visiting their website www.sagestudioatx.com in order to support their artists.