Dawn Westover

How to create community with art, and other lessons from Field of View

An artist residency program for people with developmental disabilities rethinks the value of creative labor

Most stories are more complicated than they seem. To really understand why we–individually and collectively–have ended up at this particular moment in time under the often baffling conditions that inform day-to-day life, the simple story just won’t suffice.

This particular story, which looks at how five Portland-based artists ended up at a very special artist residency called Field of View, is far from simple. To understand how this program came to be begs for a brief glimpse into the ongoing public policy debate over how the State of Oregon should support individuals who experience developmental disabilities, for example. And all the nuances, twists, turns and triumphs in this story illuminate the Field of View resident artists’ resilience and creative capacity–as well as the possibility that art-making could play a vital role in the movement toward a more holistic, integrated city, state, and society.

My journey into this story began on a Sunday evening late this past August. Carissa Burkett, the artist who initiated Field of View, a program of the nonprofit Public Annex, invited me over to her home for dinner, where I met five of the program’s resident artists, along with Lauren Moran, Burkett’s co-organizer. Thanks to funding from the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund, Field of View was able to place these artists, all of whom experience developmental disabilities*, in three-month-long artist residencies around the community in Portland, at sites including King School, Performance Works Northwest, and the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

We sat on Burkett’s back patio that warm night and chatted for a couple of hours about the artists’ experience in their residencies. At the gathering, I met Dawn Westover, a visual artists who makes drawings; Sonya Hamilton, a painter and ceramicist; David Lechner, a visual and dance artist; and Olga Shchepina, a painter and sculptor. I also reconnected with Larry Supnet, a prolific visual artist whom I had met earlier in the year.

What made this gathering of artists especially interesting, in my eyes, was their familiarity with one another–the way they cracked jokes and smiled knowingly. I could tell there was a lot more to their stories as colleagues. “How do you all know each other?” I asked…

Dawn Westover’s Instagram @dawn_westover_art

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As it turns out, the story of these artists coming together goes way back–so far back that it required a detour into the history of the Oregon state legislature’s attempts to improve its services for Oregonians with developmental disabilities. Burkett filled me in on some of the details.

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Artists Who Fly Like Rocks

The Self-Taught Artist Fair opens Thursday at PNCA, expanding definitions and identities

September 7 is a big day in Portland arts and culture. Along with First Thursday festivities, which herald exhibition openings for many a gallery in the Pearl District, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art kicks off the 15th annual Time-Based Arts Festival with multiple (yes, multiple) performances and parties jam-packed into one evening. What a time to be in Portland! As the floodgates prepare to open with a barrage of visual art and performative offerings on Thursday evening, keep in mind a unique exhibition afoot at Pacific Northwest College of Art’s Commons Gallery: the Self-Taught Artist Fair: Flying Like a Rock.

The title of the exhibition, produced by The Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA and Public Annex, begs plenty of questions—for starters, what qualifies someone as a self-taught artist?

“Britney Spears,” by Dawn Westover, colored pencil and pen on paper, in the Self-Taught Artist Fair.

While, on the surface, it seems safe to assume that a self-taught artist is someone without any formal training, Public Annex’s Lara Ohland, the lead organizer on this exhibition, explains: “There have been a lot of questions, and I am continually trying to re-clarify for myself what this does mean.” As an artist with a level of formal training, Ohland emphasizes that she does not wish to be the “keeper to the definition,” noting instead, “I want to leave lots of space for people to choose their own identity in that.”

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