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In a city increasingly focused on the arts, one Napa gallery stands alone. Artists at the Brown Street Gallery are clients of Napa Valley Support Services (NVSS), a program providing employment, education and community services for adults with disabilities.

“We have 24 full-time clients enrolled here, from ages 18 - 62,” said program coordinator Emmy Lesko, a Napa native who has been with this program for three years. “Clients come in and work on their art projects. They decide which group they’d like to be in, we don’t assign them. We have art supplies from watercolor pencils, acrylics, drawing, painting, fabric arts and knitting to sculptural projects.”

The gallery began as an arts and crafts program in Calistoga, where clients would create objects to be sold at the farmers markets. When they were unable to sustain the program in Calistoga four years ago, they added the art component and opened the Brown Street Gallery.

Artwork is professionally framed and sells for $75 to $150. This year, Brown Street Gallery was a part of Napa Valley Open Studios. The gallery hosts an opening every other month and several patrons are following particular artists and collecting their pieces. Professional gallery Artefactos on Lincoln Street in Napa hosted their first solo show.

The program has drawn professional artists to work as instructors, with a ratio of three students to one teacher. One of these artists is art consultant James Orlando, who is the curator and oversees program development. He is also a psychotherapist.

“This is a wonderful place,” said Orlando, who lives and has a studio in Vallejo. “Part of what I do is see what clients are doing and have a creative interaction with them. When they first arrive, we take a few months until they know in what direction they want to go and what they have a desire to do. We’re currently expanding our goals and would like to introduce ceramics and photography.”

Selling their work gives the artists more than a sense of accomplishment, since the goal of NVSS is one of complete integration with clients and the community.

“When clients see their work framed and realize that they can make money on it, we see an increase in self-esteem. They identify themselves as artists. This is a big step for clients who are on a fixed income and may not have a full voice in the community. This is also an opportunity to get out into the community. The clients see a part of the community and the community sees our diverse population of able-bodied people in the world. It’s exciting for me and I get so much more out of it than I ever expected.”

Funding for the programs comes from contracts with the North Bay Regional Center and the California Department of Rehabilitation, who also refer people to the program. There is no cost to individuals who have been evaluated by a Regional Center or are eligible for Department of Rehabilitation services. NVSS is open to any disabled adult over 18 in Napa County.

Many success have emerged from the Brown Street Gallery experience.

“Linda is one of our clients who has been in the NVSS program for 28 years,” said Lesko. “She used to live at Napa State Hospital. Linda loves beautiful flowers and since she’s been here, her communication skills have increased incredibly. She works in watercolor pencils. Her work is amazing, so bright and lovely. The staff has really connected with her and cares so much for her. Linda feels comfortable here.”

Orlando agreed. “She has a body of work now that’s respected. Exhibiting her work has really created a bridge with the community. Recently, we’ve talked with a gallery in San Francisco that might be interested in showing her work. Artefacto showed her watercolors and her work was featured in the Open Studios catalog. The Brown Street Gallery offers unique and wonderful opportunities for these artists.”

Another client who has made great strides is Katie.

“Katie can be challenging,” said Lesko with a smile. “When she first came she only wanted to listen to music. Now she makes art every day. She has a routine of music, art and snack. A communication board speaks for her. Her watercolors are amazing. She chooses the colors herself and uses a light brush so the watercolor goes on paper easily. It’s quick and a fast reward seeing the completed project. Her artwork was featured on an Artefactos reception card.”

Orlando added, “I’m eager to see where Katie is in a couple of years.”

The reception card shows four bold abstract watercolors in vivid teal, yellow and black.

Every other month, artists and admirers crowd the gallery for an artists’ reception.

“It’s an opportunity for family and friends to see loved ones’ work up on the gallery walls and celebrate it,” said Orlando. “Half of art is looking and seeing the beauty. I’m humbled by being a part of our clients’ artistic process.”

The Brown Street Gallery is at 2225 Brown St., Suite 1. The facility is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the client artists are there until 2 p.m. The public is welcome to tour the gallery and visit with the artists. No reservation is necessary. The gallery will have a holiday sale Dec. 1, when they will offer sale items and handmade gifts from $2 up.

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