PAWTUCKET – The Outsider Collective’s work space, in Hope Artiste Village, is thick with paintings. Canvases of all sizes adorn the walls; a colorful mélange of landscapes, portraits and abstract compositions. The artwork is as diverse as the students who have come through the workshop’s door, which is by design: the collective’s mission is to be an inclusive studio and gallery environment, especially for people with disabilities.
“My favorite part of it is the individual teaching approach,” says Carrie Hyde-Riley, who cofounded the Outsider Collective nonprofit with Colleen Morgan in late 2020. “Everybody has their own unique voice. That’s what’s so special about people with disabilities. They’re themselves, all the time, no matter what. They make the way that they want to make. Everyone has the potential to be an artist.”
The collective is open to people of all backgrounds, and at least four regular students and one volunteer come from Rhode Island’s Jewish community. This participation in such an inclusive environment particularly strikes a chord in February, which is Jewish Disability, Awareness and Inclusion Month, or JDAIM.
“It’s a great place,” says Brandon Winkler, 39, one of the regular students at the collective. Winkler creates elaborate abstract paintings.
“If you’re not into art, it will change your mindset on how you think,” he says of the collective. “I’d rather do what I want to do, and be taught a new way to do something, and I can make the decision if I like the new way I’m being taught, or I just want to continue to do it the way I want to do it.”
“I love painting here because it’s a great community,” says Rachel Rasnick, 29, whose more realistic work has become markedly more sophisticated since she started at the collective. (Read Jewish Rhode Island’s 2020 story on Rasnick, “Barrington artist’s work is getting noticed,” at tinyurl.com/3k3jt654.)
“At first my paintings weren’t that great, but then after a while, I progressed,” she said in a recent interview at the collective.
Nicole Ginzberg, 60, attends Outsider Collective as both a student and volunteer. Originally from New York City, Ginzberg spent most of her career as a social worker, including 25 years working at the inpatient unit at Fuller Hospital, in Attleboro, then seven years counseling in area nursing homes. When COVID-19 forced her employer to shut down, Ginzberg revived her creative spirit.
“I was at a crossroads in my life,” she recalls. “I could get another job doing social work, which I love. But I’ve always loved art. I love the openness of art. I’ve always done some art. But [I was also interested in] doing art with a variety of people.”
This variety has been Outsider Collective’s forte since the beginning. The organization essentially replaced a program called RHD-RI, where Hyde had served as art director, and many students migrated over from that program. Some participants have been diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy or other challenges, while others are neurotypical.
The Outsider Collective is mostly funded by memberships, along with occasional grants and donations. Memberships cost between $150 and $275 a month, which includes the space, instruction and a wide range of art supplies. Non-members pay an open-studio drop-in rate of $25 per hour.
Hyde and Morgan, who are multimedia artists, provide one-on-one instruction, but each session is open-ended, allowing members to experiment in an upbeat group setting.
Volunteers help around the studio and help support members with disabilities. But the spirit of the place is passively collaborative; just by sitting together, side-by-side around a crafting table, members motivate one another to unleash their creativity, explore and bring their visions to life.
Although Outsider Collective has no specific plans to commemorate JDAIM, the themes of the month resonate on many levels, for both Jewish and non-Jewish members. Ginzberg’s mother fled France in the 1940s and lived in Cuba and Mexico City before being admitted to the United States. In New York, Ginzberg knew many Holocaust survivors, who were living monuments to extreme social hostility.
“I think it always made me very wary of judging people or making people ‘other,’ or discrimination in general,” she says. “That’s a very strong Jewish value – and should be an overall value, for everyone.”
For more information about The Outsider Collective and to sign up, go to TheOutsiderCollective.org.
ROBERT ISENBERG (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the multimedia producer for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and a writer for Jewish Rhode Island.