SAGE Studio hosts creative outlet space for disabled artists

Noah Van Hooser

Art serves as a medium for a wide range of expressions spanning a wide array of identities, backgrounds and abilities. However, the opportunities to share such creations are not always readily available to everyone. Seizing this reality as an opportunity, practicing artist Katie Stahl and social worker Lucy Gross teamed up to create SAGE Studio in East Austin.

In May, the two co-founders stumbled upon an 8-by-20-foot shipping container for rent. Drawing from past involvements with various art education programs, Stahl and Gross opened the container turned studio in June as a platform for disabled artists, hoping to assist the production and exhibition of their work.

The studio welcomes visitors on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Thursday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and other days of the week by appointment.

Coming from humble beginnings in Gross’ dining room, the now-converted studio has satisfied their wishes for a space.

“Between the dining room and eventual backyard studio, we were pretty limited,” Stahl said. “Finding the container was serendipitous for us. We weren’t looking for anything huge, and it was still the kind of space that would attract people unfamiliar with our artists.”

Prior to the conception of SAGE, Stahl and Gross bonded over similar passions while working at The Arc of the Arts, a daily arts education program for clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Despite her own past experiences with art education, Stahl said that the vision of SAGE employs an approach that doesn’t necessitate a teacher-student dynamic.

“We don’t view what we’re doing as education per se,” Stahl said. “We see our role as artist facilitators. These artists have distinct voices already and we try not to step on their toes. It’s about letting them do what comes naturally.”

The studio’s recent fall show featured work from a handful of SAGE artists, and even featured live painting from Dallas-based artist Charlie French. French has been painting for 10 years and has had his work featured in a Down Syndrome Association magazine.

“Painting live for a crowd was fun,” French said. “I was proud and was able to sell (the piece). I am an abstract painter, and my favorite thing to paint is storms.”

While the studio welcomes local artists, the project also seeks to work with statewide creatives. The scope of SAGE’s ambition has allowed the co-founders to constantly find new talent.

Although the studio aims to create opportunities for artists, Stahl said the impact has been mutual.

“As an artist, I struggle with having a voice that’s distinct sometimes,” Stahl said. “We have different artists working with different mediums, but they all have a truly distinct voice. I admire their expression and it’s something I try to bring into my own practice.”

For Gross, one meaningful component of forming a relationship with the artists is gaining insight into their other relationships.

“One of my favorite parts of (working at SAGE) is meeting the artists’ families,” Gross said. “Getting to experience how families have interacted with their children with disabilities and how that’s affected them, those stories are the most significant.”