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Friday, October 14th marked the surprise celebration of the 2016 Ohio Rehabilitation Association Awards presentation hosted by Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries. Held at the organization’s corporate headquarters, the special event was a complete surprise for this year’s recipient of the Doris Brennan Award of Excellence. This year’s ORA Award recipient is Antonio Adams, famous local artist and long-time successful community employee. The ORA Doris Brennan Award is given to someone who exemplifies the courage and determination to achieve personal success despite the challenges of disability or other barriers in life. Antonio Adams is truly a wonderful recipient of this year’s ORA award because his journey to success reflects every aspect of what the award is designed to recognize.
Antonio has been successfully employed by the Frisch’s corporation for more than fifteen years and Ohio Valley Goodwill was instrumental in assisting Antonio to obtain this position initially. Goodwill also provides the job coaching follow along support services to ensure that Antonio maintains his position and receives any assistance he might need related to his work life. At Friday’s surprise celebration, a group of more than 25 attendees including long-time friends, family and Goodwill team members as well as ORA President, Tom Kinser were on hand to celebrate Antonio’s achievements and congratulate him on his personal success. “The Goodwill team could not be more happy for Antonio,” said Aimee Rittner, Assistant Director of Community-Based Services. “He is well-deserving of this wonderful recognition and we congratulate him on his many accomplishments both professionally as well as artistically.”
Antonio’s story is truly remarkable because his is not only a story about employment success and the importance of work but also about his art. One of the founding members of Visionaries and Voices, a non-profit studio created specifically for artists with disabilities to grow personally and professionally, Antonio has become quite well-known for his “outsider” art. In the time that Antonio has been creating art- first drawings and then sculptures from discarded items, he’s switched media and turned from drawing to painting and now to commissioned paintings and sculptures. He has traveled from Cincinnati to California as a featured artist and member of the Visionaries and Voices studio group.
In talking with Antonio, artist, community employee and co-founder of “Visionaries and Voices,” he explains that “Visionaries and Voices is like people with disabilities who want to become like regular artists and have shows like other artists. They have ideas to work out for shows so that people are interested.” In his remarks during the ORA award reception, Antonio shared some the history of his work over the years.
August 3, 2003 was the beginning of “Visionaries and Voices,” an art studio for artists with disabilities. Since the launch of the studio, Antonio has sold hundred of pieces (large and small) through Visionaries and Voices-sponsored shows. Bill Ross, co-founder of Visionaries and Voices and Antonio’s friend, remembers that he met Antonio in the summer of 2000. Antonio was graduating from Hughes High School at the time and Bill heard from a co-worker at the Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services (HCDDS) that Antonio was quite the gifted artist. Bill visited Antonio at his home and saw for himself “ the army of cat sculptures that Antonio had lined up in his room. It was like King Tut’s tomb- an amazing sense of order to the collection. He even had a book describing each piece, its story and its order in the collection,” recalls Bill.
“When I met Antonio, I said we have to show this. Antonio was hesitant and shy initially- not having a lot of confidence in himself or his voice at the time. Finally, we were able to convince him to be part of a show in October featuring my own work as well as the work of Keith Banner, the other co-founder of Visionaries and Voices. Antonio titled the show “Art Thing” and the whole project initially became known as the “Art Thing.” The original artists were three other artists with disabilities and Antonio. Antonio thought of the group as “The Beatles,” Bill said.
Co-founders Keith Banner, Bill Ross and Antonio met regularly to discuss the vision for the new studio. Antonio specified that the one rule would be that all artists are welcome but no negative people are allowed. (The group had experienced resistance from other studios about the inclusion of artists with disabilities in the past).
In 2002, Antonio wrote a speech about himself, which he then presented to Impact 100, a grant-making organization that was created to improve the community. In summarizing his comments, Antonio finished by saying, “I’m not a student. I’m not a stranger. I’m not an employee. I’m not a gangster. I am a Kingdom Master artist.” Antonio explains that as an artist, he is now master of his own kingdom- his own world. The Impact 100 group was very instrumental in helping the fledgling Visionaries and Voices studio to access funding for start-up and operating costs. In the summer of 2006, Antonio and his fellow artists launched “Visionnati,” a street festival, which featured music, art and entertainment. Antonio was also part of a panel of artists featured at the Cincinnati Public Library during the event to talk about “outsider art.” The term refers to artists who are self-taught in their craft.
Antonio also shared the story of the ThunderSky Art Gallery in Northside where most of his shows are currently held. He talked about his long-time friendship with Raymond ThunderSky; an artist also served by Goodwill; who was the inspiration for the current art gallery after his passing in 2004.
During today’s ORA Awards Reception, Antonio shared his legacy of both his artwork and collaborations as well as his feelings about his employment and partnership with Ohio Valley Goodwill. He finished his very eloquent remarks by saying “Everything I do- my work and my art is done for the betterment of my community. I believe in that in everything I do.” Antonio received an ovation from the audience and the first piece of his own custom cake.
When asked what Antonio thinks about his journey with Visionaries and Voices and Goodwill over the past fifteen years, Antonio says “It’s like a real life.” Ohio Valley Goodwill congratulates Antonio Adams on being the recipient of the 2016 Ohio Rehabilitation Association Doris Brennan Award of Excellence!