Art Knows No Bounds

SFMOMA's Historic Collaboration with Creative Growth, Creativity Explored, and NIAD

by , April 2024
A black and white photograph of an elderly couple smiling and standing close together in what appears to be an exhibition or gallery space, with framed artworks visible in the background. The man is wearing a patterned sweater and glasses, and the woman is in a black turtleneck, also with glasses.
Elias Katz and Florence Ludins-Katz at a Creative Growth exhibition in the 1980s; photo: Creativity Explored

Fifty years ago, artist Florence Ludins-Katz and psychologist Elias Katz founded Creative Growth Art Center. Their mission was to create a community resource dedicated to elevating the role of artists with disabilities. “Our philosophy is that each person has the right to the richest and fullest development of which he is capable. Only then can society reach its fullest potential,” stated the founding documents. “Creativity is a vital living force within each individual.”

Creative Growth provided a necessary outlet and respite for talented creators with disabilities. In 1982 and 1983, the Katzes expanded upon the organization’s success by founding NIAD, a studio and art gallery that encourages community integration through artistic expression, and Creativity Explored, a studio-based collective and exhibition space that facilitates the careers of artists with developmental disabilities.

Today, these sister organizations — Creative Growth in Oakland, NIAD in Richmond, and Creativity Explored in San Francisco — operate independently with slightly different emphases and commitments, but all three share the goal of providing adult artists with developmental disabilities the opportunity to work in communal studios staffed by facilitators and to have their art shown in affiliated gallery spaces that connect them to the larger art world. Artists represented by the organizations have had their works acquired by SFMOMA; the Oakland Museum of California; the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris, among others. Some have had their work shown in major international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale and the Whitney Biennial.

Creative Growth serves more than 140 Bay Area artists with physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities who create works across media ranging from woodwork and ceramics to painting, printmaking, drawing, and fiber. This fall, SFMOMA established a partnership with Creative Growth that celebrates the organization’s radical model for breaking down barriers and advancing inclusion, and spotlights the Bay Area’s central role in the art and disability movement. The partnership includes SFMOMA’s landmark acquisition of works by artists affiliated with the organization; an exhibition called Creative Growth: The House That Art Built; a commissioned mural by Creative Growth artist William Scott; and an array of exciting events and public programming unfolding over the next three years.


John Martin working at Creative Growth, 2020; photo: Diana Rothery
John Martin working at Creative Growth, 2020; photo: Diana Rothery


SFMOMA recently acquired 114 works by 10 Creative Growth artists: Josef Alef, Camille Holvoet, Susan Janow, Dwight Mackintosh, John Martin, Dan Miller, Donald Mitchell, Judith Scott, William Scott, and Ron Veasey. The museum also acquired 31 works from nine Creativity Explored artists — Mary Belknap, Peter Cordova, Daniel Green, Camille Holvoet, Walter Kresnik, John Patrick McKenzie, James Montgomery, Bertha Otoya, and Evelyn Reyes — and 12 works from four NIAD artists, Julio Del Rio, Karen May, Marlon Mullen, and Arstanda Billy White. These combined acquisitions from all three centers make SFMOMA home to one of the largest collections of art by artists with disabilities in the country.

Among the acquisitions from the organizations are works by internationally exhibited artists such as Judith Scott, whose intricately layered fiber sculptures incorporate everyday objects, and Dan Miller, who works ambidextrously to form dense clouds of words, numbers, and punctuation in paintings and works on paper.

Dan Miller Untitled
Dan Miller, Untitled, 2021; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, purchase, by exchange, through a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Honig

“Creativity Explored, NIAD, and Creative Growth were dreamed into existence by our visionary founders, Florence Ludins-Katz and Elias Katz. Their innate understanding of the value that disabled artists bring has meant better lives for people with disabilities worldwide, and a richer, realer art world for everyone,” says Linda Johnson, executive director of Creativity Explored. “This historic acquisition by SFMOMA recognizes the significance of the Katzes’ dream and underscores the museum’s commitment to a more inclusive arts landscape.”


Creative Growth: The House That Art Built celebrates the 50th anniversary of the organization and its contributions to the art and disability field locally, nationally, and internationally. The show unveils the museum’s acquisition of works by artists affiliated with Creative Growth. The selection of several dozen works on view date from 1981 to 2021 and span acrylic paintings, oil pastel drawings, ceramics, and a film. The exhibition will also include archival material, highlighting the organization’s history and ongoing impact.

“These extraordinary artists and artworks express a limitless imagination and vision that we hope expand visitors’ understanding of the art that is being made in the Bay Area,” says Jenny Gheith, associate curator, painting and sculpture, who organized the exhibition alongside Nancy Lim, associate curator, painting and sculpture, and Auriel Garza, curatorial assistant, painting and sculpture.

Dwight Mackintosh came to Creative Growth when he was 72, after spending more than 55 years living in institutions. For 20 years until his death in 1999, Mackintosh practiced at Creative Growth, developing his signature kinetic linework and looping text for works that depict trains, angels, even tonsillectomies. Several of his pieces will be on view, including Untitled (1981), a swirling school bus signed with sprawling writing.


Dwight Mackintosh Untitled
Dwight Mackintosh, Untitled, 1981; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, purchase, by exchange, through a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Honig

A second exhibition, presented simultaneously, will include a large-scale painting by William Scott commissioned by the museum as part of the Bay Area Walls series, which was launched in 2021 and features local artists responding to the pressing issues of our times. The faces of family members, public figures, and Mickey Mouse abound in Scott’s composition as citizens are reborn as happier and healthier versions of themselves.

“Scott’s artistic practice is rooted in an optimism that change is possible,” says Lim. “By putting marker to paper, he believes that change can happen.”

William Scott acrylic on suit jacket
William Scott, Untitled, 2020; purchase, by exchange, through a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Honig

A series of works by Camille Holvoet, who has practiced at both Creative Growth and Creativity Explored, shows her autobiographical and narrative approach that documents her friendships, home life, artistic identity, and experiences of loss and the medical system. The motifs of pleasure seen in her oil pastels — Ferris wheels, desserts, merry-go-rounds — are deceptively sweet, meant to navigate difficult feelings and experiences. “We like to act silly sometimes in order to be serious every day,” she says. Script that spells out Holvoet’s nightmares, fascinations, frustrations, and desires connect her otherwise distinct bodies of work on view.

Camille Holvoet The New EEG Test in Chips
Camille Holvoet, The New EEG TEST IN CHIPS [...], 1998; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, purchase, by exchange, through a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Honig

“We want visitors to take away an expanded sense of who artists are and where they come from,” notes Lim. “By amplifying the artistic voices of individuals with developmental disabilities, this collaboration breaks down barriers within an often overlooked community and offers an exciting opportunity for museum visitors to experience these visually captivating and deeply personal works,” adds Tom di Maria, director emeritus at Creative Growth.

Events, Programs, and Products

Works by neurodiverse artists from Creative Growth, NIAD, and Creativity Explored will continue to be integrated into SFMOMA projects and programs. Beyond Creative Growth: The House That Art Built, SFMOMA will organize events as part of this groundbreaking moment in the museum’s history, including the fifth annual Creative Growth Creating Community symposium, where colleagues from the art and disability field converge to discuss pressing topics within disability justice. The museum will also host the 50th Beyond Trend Gala, featuring fashion designs created, modeled, and showcased by Creative Growth artists.

“This partnership is part of our ongoing effort to fulfill SFMOMA’s vision to present and collect a more diverse range of artists, expanding our understanding of art history and the narratives and artists that have shaped it,” says Christopher Bedford, the Helen and Charles Schwab Director of SFMOMA. “It is one important step of many in the museum’s overdue commitment to prioritize accessibility and artists with disabilities.”

Creative Growth: The House That Art Built is on view from April 6 through October 6, 2024 on Floor 2.


Caroline Harris

Caroline Harris

Caroline Harris is an assistant editor at SFMOMA, where she writes and edits content for the museum’s print and digital communications. A Bay Area native, Caroline is passionate about writing and majored in English at the University of Pennsylvania. When she’s not reading or writing, Caroline enjoys running, hiking, skiing, and exploring San Francisco.
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