Inclusive Art

Step inside Jane Elias’ unique approach to art classes at her Minneapolis studio.

Jane Elias has always been involved in her community, whether it was her time spent traveling the U.S. as a professional muralist or volunteering at her children’s school. Once her children had grown up, Elias realized she needed to be doing something full-time again. In light of her history of community work, starting a nonprofit seemed obvious.

Simply Jane Studio opened in 2007 and became the nonprofit Simply ArtAble in 2012. Working with a wide range of community members, she noticed people with disabilities (including persons with brain trauma and autism, for example) seemed to be drawn to her studio as a form of art therapy. To accommodate everyone, she moved into a new 2,300-square-foot space and made sure everything was wheelchair accessible. The studio gives off a “warehouse artist loft feel,” she says, and is decorated with a spring garden theme.

Among the many rewards from her nonprofit, Elias says being adaptive when working with people with special needs is the best. For those with cerebral palsy, for example, she’s put little balls at the end of paintbrushes in order to make them easier to hold.

Elias’ personal experience influenced her desire for an inclusive art studio. As a person highly sensitive to certain smells and textures, she realized there wasn’t a place for people like her. Her current space prevents overstimulation with lots of natural light and soft music.

Though the primary focus is painting on canvas, Simply ArtAble offers several different summer classes including pottery, wwcomic book art and story illustrations, among others. Elias looks forward to classes because she sees able-bodied kids working with kids with disabilities and knows it’s beneficial for everyone.