Toni Lanes has bipolar disorder but she says it doesn’t have her. Instead, she is a successful artist that has traveled the world selling her pieces and exemplifying how mental health is not what defines a person. In 2013, Toni Lanes became a client at Art Enables, a nonprofit organization, and was later promoted to studio assistant.

“For three years, I’ve been selling my art and getting to know people and myself more while dealing with my illness and other peoples’ illnesses. I’ve realized the importance in myself by being a mentor. I live in a ‘me’ world and at Art Enables it’s a ‘we’ world,” she told the AFRO.

The Art Enables gallery gives D.C. residents with mental illness a space to make and sell their art. The Art Enables staff is pictured. (Courtesy photo)

Founded in 2001, Art Enables is an art gallery in Northeast D.C. that focuses on providing artists with disabilities – including autism, down syndrome, traumatic brain injury, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, among others –opportunities to cultivate, advertise, and profit as artists in a professional setting. The gallery was created by Joyce Muis-Lowery with the mission of providing a creative space for emerging artists to develop, while providing a secure environment for the artists to express themselves.

“It’s not common that people with developmental abilities are served in the same physical space. What’s really powerful and what I’ve grown to appreciate is – because the common denominator here is art – how that is the unifying element in the studio and it creates this really powerful dynamic where there is tremendous peer support,” Tony Brunswick, executive director of Art Enables, told the AFRO.

Funding for the gallery comes from private donations and government grants. All money from art sales go directly to the artists and framing costs. According to Brunswick, artists are given the opportunity to use a variety of free materials during workshops which are offered every second Saturday of the month.

Although the gallery is a free, creative space, it has rules to ensure a professional environment, such as weekly reviews. Artists critique each other, and whenever an artist completes a piece, it must be evaluated by a jury before it can be showcased for exhibition and sale. Prices range from $15 to more than $100.

“We don’t teach them how to make art, we want to give them the experience of being an artist,” Brunswick said. “The exhibition experience, the studio experience, the jury and peer review experience are all very important. It helps develop, for the artist, the professional thick-skin to be able to take feedback and determine their own opinions on their work.”

Art Enables will also be celebrating their 15-year anniversary on Nov. 4. The gallery is also celebrating the fact that is has sold more than $1 million worth of artwork during that time.

Brunswick said there are plans to expand by collaborating with cross-disciplinary arts organizations to give artists the opportunity to work with theatre and dance companies for stage productions.

Renovations to enlarge the production space for artists began in October of 2016 and are expected to end in January of 2018.