NIAD Art Center

Florence Ludins-Katz and Dr. Elias Katz strongly believed that creative expression is inherent in all people, including those with disabilities. They were instrumental in founding three art centers for people with developmental disabilities that continue to exist today. 

The disability rights movement was already gaining steam in the San Francisco Bay Area when the Katzes moved to Berkeley, CA in 1966. By day, Florence was an artist and arts educator, and Elias practiced psychology at Sonoma State Hospital. At the time, they were also hosting wildly successful art-making events out of their garage for a number of artists with disabilities. A National Endowment for the Arts Grant allowed the Katzes to found Creative Growth in Oakland in 1974, NIAD Art Center in Richmond in 1982, and Creativity Explored in San Francisco in 1983.

Originally named “National Institute of Art & Disabilities,” NIAD was conceived as a research institute for methods of art practice and instruction for artists with developmental, intellectual, and physical disabilities, an organization that would share its findings with a national network of “progressive art studios”. 

The “Progressive Art Studio” methodology was simple but revolutionary in the way it centered acceptance rather than assimilation of artists with disabilities. The studios give artists an opportunity to work communally during regular work hours; they push for accessibility and inclusion in the traditional contemporary art world: gallery and museum exhibitions, art fairs, studio visits; they resist the student/professor relationship in favor of “studio facilitators” who assist more than teach; and they establish a sales element where artists earn a commission from collectors of their work. 

Through several publications, including Art & Disabilities and Freedom to Create, as well as conferences and traveling exhibitions, the Katzes advocated for the Progressive Art Studio model as a powerful way to improve quality of life for artists with disabilities.

NIAD eventually evolved away from a research format, and it’s acronym now stands for “Nurturing Independence through Artistic Development.” NIAD’s first space was adjacent to the Kennedy High School building, and moved to its present location in Richmond in 1988 after the purchase of a building on 23rd Street.

After Florence’s death in June 1990, Dr. Katz continued to speak, write and advocate tirelessly for the importance of creativity in improving self-esteem, communication and community integration. He continued to be involved with NIAD until his death in August 2008. 

True to the Katzes’ vision, the Progressive Art Studio model is now being practiced by hundreds of organizations across the United States, and internationally. NIAD Art Center remains one of the oldest and most innovative examples of this model.

Today, NIAD is at the epicenter of a “Richmond Renaissance,” bringing artists and organizations in this historically and culturally rich, diverse, working-class city together around an Arts Corridor initiative aimed at revitalizing our beloved community.

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