Ryan Sikes works on a “Project Search” Ceiling Tile Project.
Ryan Sikes has been making art ever since he could hold a pencil. But by his mid-20s, what started as a hobby had morphed into what looked more like a career. He’s featured in a new documentary called “Emerging Artists,” which took first place in two categories at the 2022 IFCKC Every Picture Tells a Story Film Contest.
John Buice was in his late 40s before he began working in the medium that would win him a solo show at Plug Projects, his own Charlotte Street Foundation Crossroads Art Board, and a published collection of his work.
Art by both Sikes and Buice will be featured alongside dozens of other artists’ work in an exhibition called “Peripheral Visions” at the Kansas City Public Library’s Genevieve Guldner Gallery opening January 7.
Parts of their stories will sound familiar to any professional artist. Other parts, though, are utterly unlike their colleagues’ experiences.
Once Sikes’ interest in painting went from a hobby to a professional aspiration, he says, “I really wanted to sell my artwork, and I didn’t have any avenues to do that. My artwork at home was just kind of building up.”
That’s not unusual.
But, he explains, it was his doctor who essentially launched him.
“My provider, she did some research and poking around and found Emerging Artists through JCDS, Johnson County Developmental Supports.”
Sikes is one of the 16 artists in the Emerging Artists program — all of whom have been diagnosed with an intellectual or developmental disability. A similar but older program called Imagine That! KC supports 46 such artists in Jackson, Clay and Platte counties in Missouri, including Buice.
The title of the library show comes from the idea that this community of artists is sometimes not integrated into the city’s larger arts scene but on the “periphery.” However, each program emphasizes the artist over the diagnosis and argues that there’s little reason to make a distinction between the two groups.
And, very often, art-lovers and jurists don’t know the difference. The JCDS and Imagine That! KC artists are that talented.
Buice’s coup at landing an Art Board, for instance.
“The person that was applying on his behalf didn’t say this is ‘Johnny with X disability.’ It was: ‘This is John Buice. Here’s his artwork,’” says Imagine That! KC Program Director Amy Norman. “All the staff we’ve had here, tons of them, have applied and haven’t gotten it. But Johnny did.”
At first, Buice only gravitated toward collage. Then he took off with it. He’d find a magazine photo and replace the models’ heads with simple, hand-drawn smiley-face cutouts and add a caption.
“There’s one where a gal was bent over and he said, ‘Guess I’m broken now.’ So, he just made funny little quotes about these pictures that he was making,” Norman says.
As for Sikes, he’s been making a lot of mushroom art. A woman who recently bought one of his paintings loved it so much she bought a mushroom shower curtain as a complement.
He likes the idea of functional mushrooms. Sikes says they’re good for different aspects of human health — that’s the practical side of his interest — but with acrylic and paint markers he colors them red and purple and gives them faces.
Sikes says making art is a great stress reliever for him and allows him to forget about reality for a while.
“Why does that feel good to me?” he asks. “Well, it makes me feel good, a) because it makes me money, and b) because it makes other people smile, which is the most important thing.”
All the art in the two programs is for sale; the artists receive a check for 80% of the selling price. Each organization sells from their website and a specific location. JCDS sells out of the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center with their website at jocogov.org/department/developmental-supports/day-services/work-enrichment/emerging-artists. Imagine That! KC sells from its studios at 2010 McGee Street in Kansas City, Missouri with their website at imaginethatkc.org/. Call ahead in order to visit Imagine That! KC.