Paint-covered tables and chairs fill the room. Paintings, drawings and more hand-painted flowers than you can count line the walls. The studio itself is bright, warm, and welcoming. But it is the artists who really bring the studio to life.
Passion Works Studio is more than the average arts studio. It is a central part of the Athens community that gives everyone who walks through its door a place to express themselves, no matter their physical or mental limitations. It holds a special place in the hearts of its artists, Athens residents and local businesses.
Passion Works was first started in 1998. It began as a workshop between a few artists and members of the Athens community with developmental disabilities. The program continued to grow and now serves as a day program for about 35 adults with developmental disabilities in the Athens community. The studio and its retail store are located at 20 East State St. Passion Works is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Passion Works strives to inspire and liberate the human spirit, enhance quality of life, and strengthen communities through the arts. Their mission is to provide a creative and inclusive atmosphere in which artists with and without disabilities thrive. They accomplish this by focusing on the ability of artists to change perceptions, raise awareness, and beautify our communities through outstanding works of art.
The artists at Passion Works make one-of-a-kind paintings and drawings on paper and canvas. Some also make jewelry and the studio is currently working on a totem pole carving. Some of the artists spend all day at Passion Works. Others come three days per week, while some come for only one hour per week.
“Passion Works is all about choice. People who come here come because they want to and choose to,” says Wayne Savage, Passion Works Studio coordinator.
Noah Hogan, one of the artists at Passion Works, spends his Tuesdays and Fridays in the studio.
“I draw my favorite animals and plants and nature things,” he says. “Predominantly crabs.”
Hogan, 26, also goes to ATCO, a work-training center for adults with disabilities in Athens. He will greet you at the door when you arrive and walk you out when it’s time to leave even though he has difficulty moving his legs and uses a walker. Hogan has also taken his artwork out of the studio by publishing his own set of children’s books featuring his own writing and computer artwork. He has been running Crabby ArtWorks with his mother since he wrote his first book, “Crabby Bakes a Cake,” in 2011. Hogan held a release party for his second book at the Athens Community Center in 2012.
“The Athens community is very supportive of the Developmental Disabilities population,” says Leanne Krul, a senior studying social work and intern at ATCO. Krul helps the clients learn life skills and how to advocate for themselves in order to help integrate them into the community.
ATCO and Passion Works Studio work together and many of the same individuals spend time at both. According to Savage, many of the artists come from their families’ homes, group homes and institutional settings in Athens.
The artists at Passion Works are also able to sell their artwork and get paid for any art they help to create. The artists sell their work through the retail store connected to the studio as well as online. Not only can the flowers and works of fine arts be purchased online, but Passion Works also sells greeting cards, jewelry, mugs, mouse pads, ornaments and cutting boards.
“Paintings, drawings and sculptures are sold through our retail store and gallery, and when it sells the artists that work on it get paid for it,” Savage says. “So Passion Works, whether it’s working on our projects or working on one of a kind artwork, provides artistic economic opportunities.”
Passion Works is most known for its handcrafted flowers. The Passion Works Flower is the official flower of Athens County. The idea began with a Passion Works artist who was always drawing and painting flowers. With the help of other artists, a three-dimensional flower was created based on the drawings. The flowers are made out of recycled newspaper printing plates from The Athens Messenger. The flowers used to be hand cut but are pressed out now due to demand and the difficulty of hand cutting them.
“We had to streamline the process to keep up with demand,” Savage says. “People see the flowers and they want one.”
Brittany Rios, a first year graduate student studying education, received a Passion Works flower as a graduation gift last year.
“I wanted a Passion Works flower because of what they stand for. After touring the facility where the flowers are created, I had to have one!” Rios says.
It takes about three weeks to make a flower from start to finish and typically about six adults with developmental disabilities will work on one flower.
A Passion Works Flower typically costs about $60, while other artwork from the studio ranges from $6 to $45. Passion Works has sold more than 21,000 flowers and continues to create new designs. Some of the designs include an OU flower collection as well as a scarlet and gray OSU collection.
The flowers can be found all over Athens in doctor’s offices, healthcare facilities, coffee shops, restaurants, academic buildings, and the Athens County library and at the Athens County Recreation Center. Rios also says that many of the teachers whom she works with have Passion Works flowers in their classrooms.
Court Street Coffee is one of the businesses that supports Passion Works. Passion Works flowers add a burst of color to the shop and Court Street Coffee sells the flowers as well.
The owner of Court Street Coffee, Debby Fulks, says Court Street Coffee sells Passion Works flowers mainly to promote Passion Works retail store and studio.
“We’re very proactive in the community. We work with the Athens News and right now we are in the process of painting all the Athens News boxes,” says Savage, the studio coordinator. “We also work with the city at Christmas time. We do tree toppers. This year I think we are going to do more for the city for Christmas.”
This year Passion Works hosted a family ornament-decorating event for the Athens community. Children were invited to decorate ornaments to put on the City of Athens Christmas tree at the Courthouse. After the event, the community came together on Dec. 4 to decorate and light the tree and place the Passion Works tree topper on the tree.
Passion Works recently received a grant from The Athens Foundation for $5,000, which will allow the studio to expand its programming. The money will be used to buy a kiln, glass, clay, and a potter’s wheel to kick-start a fused glass and ceramics programs.
“It’s going to very much widen the variety of the arts that we teach here and the arts that are available in our retail outlet and gallery. That’s going to produce more income for the artists and more income for the studio and it’s going to expand greatly the experience that the individuals we serve have here at Passion Works,” says Savage.
Going to Passion Works can be a life-changing experience for these artists. Savage says the artists are influenced by the chance to make money, and they also experience higher self-esteem, better manual dexterity and are able to give them a better identity.
“When someone first comes to Passion Works, they are typically shy and quiet. After they have been here for a few weeks, when a tourist or local dignitaries come in they will shout out welcoming our visitors and they will start showing off their artwork,” Savage says. “When they first start coming here they identify themselves as a disabled person, but after a short time they identify themselves as Passion Works artist.”
Hayley Ross is a junior double majoring in Dance and Journalism at Ohio University. She someday hopes to combine her passions for dance and journalism by working for an arts or entertainment magazine or in communications for a dance company. For her resume and work samples visit http://hayleyross.weebly.com/