Events, Programs

GATEWAY ARTS AT 50: A CONVERSATION WITH DIRECTOR GREGORY LIAKOS

Gateway Arts is a singularly unique Vinfen program—for that matter, it’s safe to say it’s unlike anyplace most people have visited. Each day, in a sprawling collection of art studios overlooking the Brookline Village neighborhood, artists with a range of disabilities and backgrounds gather to unleash their creativity and master new processes with the encouragement and support of a professional staff of artist-facilitators. Gateway artists exhibit and sell their artwork in the Gateway store and gallery and online, with artists receiving a 50% commission on all art sales. 

This year, this innovative program is celebrating its 50º anniversary with a series of special events celebrating the amazing individuals of Gateway, and the incredible spirit of creativity that the program continues to nurture. We spoke with Gateway Director Gregory Liakos about the enduring impact of Gateway and what makes the program so special. 

Who are the artists of Gateway?
Right now, we serve nearly 100 artists on our roster. They come from across Greater Boston and range in age from 21-80. They are racially and socioeconomically diverse, and they come to us with a wide range of skills and talents. Artists work here from one day to five days a week, depending on their preferences. And of course, each of them lives and works with a disability: developmental, psychiatric, physical—and often a combination of one or more. When they are at Gateway, though, it is their ability as creators that are the focus.  

Gateway seems to have carved out a very specialized place—where the artistic community and the community of people with disabilities intersect.
The arts have been central to people with disabilities’ assertion of their worth and contributions to our culture. Gateway is part of that story. We were founded in the early days of deinstitutionalization, and our founders had a forward-thinking vision that everybody has the right to a creative life. And beyond that, the fact that we’re very much grounded in a vocational mission—we are affirming the capacities of people with disabilities to pursue art as a career. That’s so central to what we’re about. 

You’re still relatively new to the Gateway community. What are the things that have surprised you most as you’ve become immersed in the daily life of the program?
The first thing that struck me was the quality of the art produced in the studios every day. It’s just breathtaking. And the range of media: from painting and drawing to sculpture, textiles, & jewelry. I’m continually surprised by the wide array of experiences that our artists bring to their work, and how they’re constantly developing ideas and new ways of seeing the world. Beyond that, there’s tremendous openness between the artists and the facilitators on staff at the program—the trust both groups have in each other, and how they work so closely to take an idea from conception to creation. I’ve been tremendously impressed by the deep commitment, professionalism, caring and skill of our amazing staff. 

The Gateway community extends outside of the artists at the program. You’ve developed an extended group of core supporters and funders over the years—talk a bit about those relationships.
These partnerships have been central to our enduring success. Certainly, we’re grateful to the citizens of the Commonwealth and our state government for their five decades of trust in our program. Vinfen has been an exceptional parent organization, without whom we would not be able to provide the holistic, individualized support our artists need to work at their highest level. Our Gateway Advisory Committee is at the epicenter of a generous network of private philanthropic support. And, of course, the relationships and trust we have with our artists’ families, caregivers and personal support systems are absolutely essential—we all work together to give our artists everything they need to succeed.  

Talk about the plans for the 50th Anniversary.
What are some of the specific highlights and special events?
Our yearlong celebration is called the Art of the Possible, which I think really captures the Gateway Arts spirit. We have a robust series of public programs, starting with an exhibition in our Gallery that opened to the public Sept. 5. We will publish a beautiful 50º anniversary catalogue with art, stories, and testimonials chronicling our program’s rich history. We’re hosting a big birthday bash at the Museum of Fine Arts on October 18. And we’ll host a free community celebration at the Brookline Public Library in March. It’s going to be a fun year!  

Looking beyond this anniversary year, what ambitions do you hold for the future of Gateway Arts?
In the immediate future, all of us here are intent on using this milestone to share the story of Gateway Arts with a broader audience. In so doing, we can continue to break down prejudice and stereotypes around disability. We’re also hopeful that our new fundraising campaign, centered around our MFA benefit, will play a major part in strengthening the program’s finances to help ensure its long-term viability. And finally, we want to build new partnerships with other cultural and community organizations, to expand opportunities for our artists. 

What, in your mind, makes Gateway such a special and unique place?
I see Gateway Arts as a daily affirmation of the power of creative expression to overcome difference and connect to our shared humanity.  

To learn more about Gateway Arts, and how to join in Gateway’s 50º anniversary celebrations, please visit Art of the Possible: Gateway Arts at 50 – Gateway Arts.

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