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Our Mission 

Creating Art, Connecting People, Inspiring Change


Since 2004, Project Onward has become a leader in the field of disability arts for its innovative blend of accuracy, artistic excellence and social engagement. Our mission requires us to:

  • provide artists with disabilities the opportunity to create their work in a safe, supportive studio environment, with access to work space, materials, and professional guidance without being encumbered by cost.

  • connect artists with disabilities with the arts community and the general public, by holding professional exhibitions and selling their work. Additionally, public programs have been designed that promote audience participation

  • inspire change by using art to promote empathy and reduce the stigma of mental illness and developmental disabilities. We seek to improve the self-image of artists by emphasizing the social and economic value of their work. This will cultivate new audiences in the art market by increasing awareness of, and generating demand for artwork created by peoples with disabilities.

Our Motivation 

We exist to give artists with disabilities a “visual voice” to tell their stories and change the perceptions of the world. Project Onward is a studio and gallery dedicated to the creative growth of adult artists whose lives are impacted by mental illness and developmental disabilities. Our non-profit studio is inclusive and we embrace artists with a wide range of life experiences. Some are self-taught artists who have Autism, while some are formally-trained artists who have bipolar disorder. There are other artists with challenges that are equally complex. However, all of them willingly explore the innermost recesses of their minds to create powerful works of art. 

Project Onward supports the endeavors of more than 60 extraordinary artists. Many have received accolades for artistic excellence. Artworks created at our studio in Chicago are widely exhibited, and can be found in private, and corporate collections throughout the world.

Most of the artists live on low incomes and can’t afford to pay for studio space, or purchase supplies. So there is no cost for them to be a part of Project Onward. Our studio seeks the support of individuals and organizations who are willing to help our artists continue their amazing journeys by “paying it forward” through financial contributions and volunteerism.

Our History 

In the beginning, there was Gallery 37, a youth employment program operated by the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs. The program gave gifted young people ages 16 to 18 an opportunity to create art, music, dance and culinary masterpieces. Over time, participants would “age out” of the program. The Department of Cultural Affairs realized there was a critical need to transition those artists with disabilities into a program that was not restricted by age. In response, it launched Project Onward in 2004. As the program grew and the challenges faced by its artists became more complex, Project Onward broadened its reach to encompass adult artists of all ages who live with developmental and/or mental illness. In 2013, Project Onward was incorporated as an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, 501(c)(3) in order to best serve its community of artists.

Project Onward Newsletter

Stay in Touch

Stay in touch with us by subscribing to Project Onward's newsletter. We send our newsletter monthly, and occasionally send event reminders or big announcements.

Support Project Onward

Help Us Create

Your donation directly supports our artists who live with disabilities and helps us pursue our mission: Creating Art, Connecting People, Inspiring Change.

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