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To provide artists with disabilities the opportunity to create their work in a safe, supportive studio environment, with access to work space, materials, and professional guidance;
• To connect artists with disabilities with the arts community and the general public, through the professional exhibition and sale of their work, and through public programs designed to foster audience participation;
• To inspire change by using art to promote empathy and reduce the stigma of mental illness and developmental disabilities; to improve the self-image of artists through the social and economic value of their work; and to cultivate new audiences in the art market by increasing awareness of, and demand for, artwork created by people with disabilities.
Project Onward supports the professional development of artists with exceptional talents and challenges, ranging from autism to mental illness, and provides these artists with workspace, materials, professional guidance, exhibition opportunities and access to markets to sell their work and advance their careers. Project Onward was founded in the summer of 2004 as a Gallery 37 pilot initiative for 8 artists who had aged-out of the local youth job-training organization’s program, but due to their disabilities they had no opportunities elsewhere to advance their artistic careers. After a successful year, the program became a part of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and moved to the Chicago Cultural Center, where it became a citywide resource and began serving artists outside of Gallery 37. The program quickly established itself and became locally recognized for the high quality of its artistic product and respected for its mission, and in 2008, the organization moved to larger quarters in the Cultural Center.
In 2013, after several years of progressive growth and increasing independence, Project Onward moved to a professional artists’ studio and gallery in the Bridgeport Art Center, The 13,000 square foot space includes three galleries and a studio customized to the needs of the organization’s growing artist membership. After nine years as a city-led program, Project Onward began the transition to becoming an independent nonprofit. Project Onward celebrates 2014 not only as its tenth year as an artistic and social resource for Chicago, but as the first year of a dynamic new period of growth and creativity.