In 1919, Marin County nonprofit organization Cedars became the first residential school in the Western United States for people with developmental disabilities.
This year, the 101-year-old organization marks a new milestone—its first collaborative art exhibition with high school art students at The Branson School in Ross. This month, the two groups unveil “Heroes and Heroines,” which opens on March 4 online and at Artist Within – A Cedars Gallery, located in downtown San Anselmo.
“If you’re familiar with Cedars, you know that we support almost 200 individuals with developmental disabilities,” says Jeanne Lipson, director of development at Cedars. “One hundred of them live in our residences, and another hundred come to our day programs.”
The Cedars Fine Art Studios is a day program in which participants create portfolios of work—including paintings, jewelry and more—that sells in the San Anselmo gallery. The Cedars Textile Arts Collaborative program also lets individuals show and sell in the gallery. Half of the proceeds from art sales go directly to the Cedars artist who created the piece.
The Branson School—which opened in Ross in 1916—and Cedars have been neighbors for more than 100 years and are connected through a “Best Buddies” program that brings together Cedars residents and Branson School students through activities including karaoke nights and basketball games.
“It’s such a rich partnership,” Lipson says. “We’re so grateful to Branson for how they’ve embraced working with us.”
For the upcoming “Heroes and Heroines” exhibit, individuals from Cedars art programs and students from the Branson School’s art department matched up over Zoom—due to the pandemic—to discuss their heroes, who ranged from Ruth Bader Ginsburg and healthcare workers to the Greek goddess Artemis and Spider-Man. From there, artists from both groups created paintings or drawings based on those discussions.
Beginning March 4, the complete “Heroes and Heroines” exhibit will show online, and curators from Cedars will also select pieces from both Cedars artists and Branson School students to be hung at Artist Within – A Cedars Gallery.
“My art students have been able to make those important connections with the Cedars artists, as well as learn from people who are as passionate about art as they are,” Allyson Seal, art teacher at the Branson School, says in a statement. “It’s been interesting to see how both sides have approached the project; some very differently and others in a similar way.”
“Everything we do [at Cedars] is about creating inclusion and income opportunities for our artists,” Lipson says. “But, really, the larger part of our mission is about destigmatizing differences and recognizing that every person has dignity and value and has something to add. This [exhibit] is going a long way to breaking down those barriers and showing how we all have heroes and heroines.”