Tina Moore is an artist, author, and a bundle of energy. It is hard to imagine this vivacious, confident woman as shy and reserved, but before she had a place to pursue her art and to socialize with other folks with disabilities, she says she was exactly that.
Then, she found Passion Works.
Passion Works is an art studio in Athens, Ohio, that creates opportunities for all people to come together and connect through the process of making art and is the brainchild of Patty Mitchell. She received a small Ohio Arts Council Artist in Residence grant in 1996 and developed a collaborative arts studio for those with developmental differences, where people felt welcome and free.
A Focus on Joy
“We want to encourage joy through the process of creation and collaboration,” says Mitchell. “We don’t want a life that is beige,” she says, sounding like the artist she is. “We talk about unexpected moments of delight. We want to live big and bold, to dig deep into the time we have.”
Mitchell, and the artists and volunteers at Passion Works color their words and work with joy. Their studio is a riot of bright hues, brilliant pigments, and artwork of every shape and size. Inclusivity is the watch word here and everyone is welcome to find a space at the table.
TINA MOORE, ARTIST AT PASSION WORKS
“When I first came to Passion Works, I was shy. I wouldn’t talk to anybody. Now, I have lots of friends and when I feel down or sad, being here picks me back up.”
“Historically, people with disabilities are often excluded from group activity and their own communities, but we’re not waiting for an invitation to join. Instead, we’re throwing the party and inviting everyone else to come,” Mitchell says. “We have a better chance of having a full house when we are welcoming and have the expectation of delight and joy.”
She adds, with a coy smile, “We want to be irresistible.”
“We don’t accept being siloed and kept apart. We welcome everyone, and we are richer for it.”
Moore is an extraordinary example. She’s showcased her art in a book she wrote and illustrated called The Adventures of Foxy Loxy and Friends about animals helping each other and celebrating their differences. It features a menagerie of animals including her signature raccoon. She was bullied as a child and wanted to write a story about that experience. This book is the result.
The Official Flower of Athens
But way before Moore wrote her book, and even before there was a fully established studio, Mitchell worked with folks in another facility. A staff member dropped by with a stack of aluminum printing plates from the local newspaper and the artists painted them, cut them, and folded them into flower petals. This grew into the ‘Athens Passion Flower,’ the studio’s first sellable product, and now, the town’s official flower. They have sold an astonishing thirty-five thousand of them, and those sales are an important self-sustaining funding source for the 501(c)(3). Other funding comes from the sale of fine art, art products, donations, and grants.
The artists, both with and without developmental differences, make each flower by hand so no two are the same. They come in a variety of sizes, with and without a stem, and are present throughout Athens’ restaurants, shops, homes, and porches. They are also popular gifts for graduation from next-door Ohio University, and for weddings and birthdays.
Passion Works sold their first flowers in 1998 and the response was instantaneous. They decided to continue making them in order to have, in Mitchell’s words, a “circular economy of making, people doing a job they love, and selling to support the studio.”
Since the artists can draw anything they want on the aluminum plates, the design is up to them and their individual inspiration and abilities. No one has to create an image or art they don’t like or can’t do. The job forms to fit them.
“Too often we see people with developmental differences struggling to do a task they can’t comfortably do,” Mitchell explains. “Any level of continuous struggle means there is something wrong with the process. We completely remove that strain and that leads to the joy at the heart of who we are.”
“I can’t imagine Athens without our beloved Passion Flowers,” says Steve Patterson, Mayor of Athens, Ohio. “These beautiful flowers represent the best of Athens—our commitment to innovation, our focus on the careful use of resources, and importantly, our dedication to inclusivity. Roses may have their appeal, but nothing is as sweet as seeing Passion Flowers throughout the city.”
This creativity is not limited to flowers. Moore once painted a satellite dish for a farmhouse.
“The satellite dish no longer looks like what it did before. Now it is pretty,” she says with a grin.
That satellite dish is vintage Passion Works, where the work is all about moments of unexpected delight, not just for the artist and volunteers, but also for the random stranger traveling down the road who glimpses a raccoon holding flowers on a once ugly, utilitarian satellite dish.
PATTY MITCHELL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR/FOUNDER OF PASSION WORKSOBLE, SOMETHING ELSE
“People with disabilities are often excluded from group activity and their own communities, but we’re not waiting for an invitation to join. Instead, we’re throwing the party and inviting everyone else to come.”
A Transferrable Model
Mitchell emphasizes that Passion Works is a shareable model. “Passion Works is the showroom of possibility, so people can come here to learn what we are doing. If they decide they want to do this in their communities, we will help them get started.”
“Many organizations support people with developmental differences, but they don’t know what to do beyond physical care. They don’t know what to do with free time or how to get communities involved, but we do. Tina is a great example. She has an image on the side of a city bus!”
The model also emphasizes collaboration so that several artists work together to create images. “The intention is to make cool stuff,” explains Mitchell. “But the creative process is always therapeutic.”
There is no greater testament to the power of this approach than Moore’s bright eyes when she talks about her art.
“I love being an artist and I love people having my artwork in their homes to cherish forever.”