Project Onward:

Hamburg has the Schlumper, Chicago has Project Onward.

„Chuckie“ Johnson draws constantly. Mostly he draws young women wearing short dresses walking somewhere while something, such as a pencil, a mosquito, a cloud, a leaf or just something hovers near their head. Sometimes he draws young men standing and sometimes he draws both young men and women on a single sheet. He draws fast, timing each drawing.

He notes the time on each drawing. A pencil sketch may take 39 minutes, 55 seconds, a watercolor 2 hours. And Chuckie talks while he draws. He talks about swimming in Lake Michigan, he talks about working at many jobs. He talks about drawing all the time for as long as he can remember.

Nearby draws beautiful full-color fish he has seen at the Shed Aquarium in Chicago. Ruby Bradford paints strong leading men – superman is a favorite subject, but so is Prince Charles. Nearby Louis deMarco draws a cloud chart, maps, birds and most anything he can see. Blake Lenoir draws flowers and animals he has seen on trips to nature preserves and wildlife sanctuaries. James Allen’s meticulous drawings beautify the grit of Chicago’s elevated train system in exacting detail.

These are some of the dozens of artists who have drawn, sculpted, sewn, painted as part of a program called Project Onward sponsored by the city of Chicago. Project Onward was founded in 2004 for artists with special needs as they became adults. It was the natural next step after a youth employment program in the arts Chicago had sponsored at its Gallery 37. Immediately the program showed high artistic achievement and within a year it was housed in its own rooms in the historic Chicago Cultural Center and became noted for its distinction as an agency dedicated to the cultural and artistic development of people with disabilities.

In 2008, Project Onward expanded into a public space with two exhibition galleries. Hundreds of visitors per week stop by to watch the artists at work and many buy the results.

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