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Tinley Park gallery that benefits disabled a ‘win-win’

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Updated: September 19, 2013 6:03AM



An art gallery and studio that has found a home in Tinley Park benefits adults with developmental disabilities, but its full mission can be painted only with a much broader brush.

The Garden Gallery & Studio, 17459 S. Oak Park Ave., welcomes all not only to view art but to participate. For instance, a silk scarf-painting activity will be offered Sept. 6 as part of its Creative Community Series.

“Our vision is to have folks across the board come into the gallery and just create art together and develop relationships,” said Gerry Beagles, executive director of Garden Center Services, the nonprofit that operates the gallery and studio. “It’s not just about those with developmental disabilities. That would be crazy. We want people from all walks of life. It’s all about making connections.”

The gallery moved in a little over a year ago, and last month held a communitywide anniversary celebration.

As part of the celebration, it unveiled a sculpture in which goldfish and tuna appeared to be swimming in a blueberry moat surrounding a castle of beans, beets and artichokes that housed a giant green dragon with an appetite for fruit bars.

The “Canstruction Project” — made of food items — represented much more than a one-year milestone. It stood as a symbol of the community connections the gallery has made in its time at the site.

“We have established a presence in the community, and that has opened more doors for us,” Beagles said.

The project was the collaborative idea of Whole Foods Market, of Orland Park, and gallery director Beth Kopf. Together, they came up with a castle to go along with the fairy tale theme depicted in the benches along Oak Park Avenue this year, Kopf said. She personally designed the Wizard of Oz bench, and the Garden Gallery has its own outside the studio.

Whole Foods donated cases of food. When the exhibit ended and the sculpture was disassembled, the food was donated to Together We Cope, another nonprofit along Oak Park Avenue.

The exhibit marked the first time the gallery had partnered with Whole Foods, and the first time either of them created such a work of art, Kopf said.

Four flags on top of the castle — labeled for Whole Foods, Garden Gallery, Together We Cope and the village of Tinley Park — were “a tribute that we are all working together,” she said.

The community has been “very welcoming,” and local artists are “starting to come out and join the fun,” she said. “I feel like we have stepped into a community of artists.

“When we opened the Garden Gallery and Studio last year, our hope was to offer a comfortable, inspired space for artists at all skill levels to work together side by side, because in art there are no disabilities. We are so pleased with the first-year success of the gallery.”

As it gave new life and meaning to a rundown building, the gallery earned the business of the year award from the Tinley Park Chamber of Commerce last year.

Garden Center Services also operates facilities in Burbank and Chicago, along with 13 residential homes. Clients come to Tinley Park for instruction in painting, pottery and weaving.

The gallery also opens its doors to the public for private parties, and has a wi-fi cafe where people can get comfortable, have a cup of coffee, read or enjoy the artwork.

Paintings by clients and other gift items are available for sale, which provides the artists with an opportunity to earn income.

“They want the same things we do — connections with people, meaning in their life and a little coin in their pocket,” Beagles said.

“The gallery is a place where they create and display art. It helps their self-esteem and gives them a chance to express themselves in ways they could not have done before. And we have some really, really awesome art,” he said.

“Cool stuff” like the gallery and the food castle would not happen without the “goodness” of people who are willing to contribute, Beagles said.

“We were very pleased to collaborate with Whole Foods Market in creating a beautiful piece of art that also has the ability to give back to those in the area who are needing assistance. It was a great way to blend food and artistic expression,” Beagles said. “It’s a win-win.”



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