Employment for Outsider Artists

Artworks - CEI (20)Manager Bruce Burris doesn’t see the creative process as therapy, and doesn’t see his work at Collaborative Employment Innovations (CEI) as being about disability. At heart, CEI is about employing artists that are often seen as outsiders. The program has just moved into new, higher profile digs right by the courthouse.

Founder Robin de La Mora said she “was grateful to have met” the like-minded Burris in 2014. Both do-gooders had spent decades helping job-seekers acquire and hold quality jobs. The two are now launching CEI’s ArtWorks project, and are scheduled to participate in upcoming Art Walks. Prepared for their new duties, neither was prepared for the success the project has garnered.

Fostering employability through attention to the creative process is CEI’s bid to “supplement a cultural component” of job training and to help talented artists explore career options in the art world. CEI operates wholly through partnerships, incentives, and state and federal funding. CEI services are free for employers and trainees alike. De La Mora founded CEI “to provide the Corvallis area with creative employment solutions.”

Weeks ago, CEI moved its headquarters to a sunny, street-front location on 4th Street in order to house the new ArtWorks project and still allow room for the business’ other functions. Located in Benton Plaza, the new space contains upgraded offices where de La Mora and the CEI team continue to train job-seekers and meet with employers—services that still comprise the bulk of CEI operations. Additionally, the east-facing 4th Street location features ArtWorks studios, gallery space, and collaborative space, all visible through expansive front windows.

ArtWorks strives to cultivate and showcase any artist’s talent, and is a welcome space for all, but they prioritize job-seekers who have special needs, challenges, or who live with a disability. De La Mora designed ArtWorks to give “community hiring managers a glimpse of the talent that people with disabilities can bring to the workplace.” De La Mora coaxes artists of “tremendous talent” to “come out of their shells” and build confidence and a sense of professionalism while perfecting their art.

An artist, a coach, and a manager in one, Burris has experience working with community art groups all over the country. On the subject of his work being about helping the disabled, Burris commented that instead the ethos “is about community and collaboration,” and that CEI artists “need encouragement and support—the same as we all do.” Burris encourages employers to think constructively and rejects a world in which “most employment opportunities for those with disabilities are limited to the most menial positions.”

Artists coached by Burris have been offered exhibit space across the country this summer. On top of the Corvallis Arts Walk, several ArtWorks pieces are now on display at the Corvallis Art Center. Additionally, on Friday, May 29, ArtWorks artists will participate in OSU’s “Co.” exploratory festival. Farther afield, Burris recently helped local artist Patrick Hackleman ship 12 works to New York City galleries for summer exhibition.

Graphic novelist Kyle Ashbaugh showed off an impressive tome containing hundreds of pages of full-color illustrations—the first published installment of a fantasy epic that Ashbaugh titled God Wars: Sands of Chaos.

CEI’s ArtWorks project joins ranks of other community art programs throughout Oregon funding disadvantaged artists and promoting equity and inclusion.

Burris stressed the importance of “honoring the [artistic] practice—like a meditation—for consistency, dialogue, and collaboration” and that “working hard was a part of the practice.”

Burris invites the Benton County community to 408 SW Monroe Avenue for a special open house event during the Corvallis Arts Walk on Thursday, June 18 from 4 to 8 p.m.

By Paul Henry