Slingshot: A Vision of Ourselves By Alexandra Terry
rica Miller started attending the Slingshot / Alpha Art Studio in downtown Santa Barbara in 2015. Though she had no previous experience making art, it quickly became clear that the studio would provide a generative platform for her budding artistic practice to flourish. Seven years later, Miller spends two days a week at the studio devoted to art-making. Her intricate embroidery pieces, humorous and pithy drawings, minimalist scratchboards, and narrative ceramic works are informed by popular culture, featuring recognizable public figures that range from Donald Trump and Universal’s Minions, to Frida Khalo and Hello Kitty. A prolific artist, Miller has no lack of inspiration or ideas. When it comes to turning a critical eye on the talking heads that populate our TV screens every day, she does not hold back; the sarcasm and wit that imbues her art is near tangible.
Founded as an artistic branch of the Alpha Resource Center, Slingshot is a studio and gallery specifically for artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Providing space, materials and instruction for over 30 artists at a time, the program takes an individual-centered approach to support each artist in developing an independent and meaningful art practice. The open studio environment is designed to encourage creative expression, and Miller particularly treasures the opportunity to share ideas and artistic approaches with her colleagues. The studio is run by teaching artists, many of whom have graduate degrees or equivalent experience, and is led by a studio manager who has a background in disability advocacy, education and program development. As facilitators, the teaching artists
and studio manager track the unique process of each resident artist. By furthering their own understanding of each artist’s intentions, they can more readily provide opportunities for experimentation with materiality and approach. The gallery at Slingshot hosts quarterly exhibitions featuring work made by its resident artists. Gallery Director Jessica Schlobohm, who curated the recent exhibition PoP, started her work at the studio in 2018 as a teaching artist. Following a short hiatus, Schlobohm rejoined in her present capacity with an aim to identify methods that would better serve the artists while broadening the visibility of their work within the community and beyond. She explains, “Art is a form of communication, and so when you’re working with a