In every nook and cranny of the Livingston Ave. storefront, there were canvases and paints, tools and hardware, mammoth sculptures of yarn and wood, a drum set, and artists at every station creating with intentional vigor. Pretty much everything on a wall or a shelf was for sale.
While Art Outside the Lines welcomes all ages and skill levels through their doors to receive drawing lessons, take yoga classes, or attend concerts and gallery openings, the entire operation is managed and operated by adults with disabilities.
It’s the only art studio in America of its kind, and though Mehri Davis is the founder and facilitator, she’s all but handed over the reins to her incredibly talented staff.
“I want to prove to the world that adults with disabilities are more than drooling wastes of space that cannot do anything for themselves,” said Davis. “Does that sound harsh? You would be surprised how many people think this. I want to prove to the world of art that there is a level of creativity and imagination that artists with disabilities have that NO ONE with typical needs will ever reach. I want to make my artists famous. The work created by some of my artists should be in the Smithsonian, the Wexner Center, the Met.”
How Mehri Davis came to be at the helm of Art Outside the Lines was by pure accident. At 14, Davis blindly applied to volunteer at a summer camp in Colorado. It wasn’t until the night before that Davis bothered to read the paperwork, only to find out that the camp served kids with disabilities.
“I freaked out,” says Davis. “I had helped with Special Olympics that past year, but had no idea how to work with this population. I arrived. I remember walking down the hill toward the cabins and seeing kids everywhere, some doing the things I was used to seeing kids do, and some doing very strange, much more interesting, things. I looked around and remember saying to myself, ‘I want to hang out with these people forever.’ And I did.”
What at first was a shock became revelation and eventual passion for Davis. At 16, her dissolution with the art world, the egos, the hustle, inspired her to make a career in art that wasn’t about herself. It was going to be her dream to realize and exhibit the talent of a forgotten population, and through her self-designed major at Ohio University, she acquired the know-how to work with adults with disabilities and aligned that with her love of art. It took a lot of patience and bureaucracy, but in 2016 Art Outside the Lines opened their doors.