Creative Growth Artists Are Celebrated in Documentary

More than 100 people are expected at Tuesday’s New York premiere of photographer and filmmaker Cheryl Dunn’s “Beyond I Wanna Go,” as part of a fundraiser for the nonprofit Creative Growth.

Made in collaboration with the Creative Growth Art Center, the documentary highlights 10 years of Creative Growth fashions. The nonprofit in Oakland, California, champions inclusivity for artists with developmental disabilities in contemporary art and provides studio and gallery representation. The New York-based Dunn has chronicled alternative urban and youth culture in her multidisciplinary work that also includes a few books.

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The 30-minute film plays up Creative Growth’s annual fashion show, which prior to the pandemic was an annual must-see, in-person extravaganza. Noting how the musician David Byrne walked the runway a few years back, Dunn said, “It has grown from being held in studios on makeshift runways to these giant halls with thousands of people. There is just a lot to be said about the work that do — being appreciated and being seen.”

Dunn first connected with the organization through Paper Magazine’s Kim Hastreiter, a longtime Creative Growth supporter, and has focused on the group in other projects, including through a series of videos for Pharrell Williams’ “I Am Other” initiative. Dunn also created videos that are on view in “Creative! Growth!” at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center through May 23 in Wisconsin.

The film is in lieu of this year’s fashion show, due to pandemic-related health precautions, but the hope is that one will be held in-person next year. The film reflects current and previous work, and highlights how the dozens of artists approach the creative process to give viewers greater insight to their work. “I make films about artists. If at all possible, I like to make them with the words of the artists themselves, not someone’s interpretation of them. I got to do that with this film,” Dunn said.

The film debuted in August at Creative Growth’s annual Beyond Trend event at the Oakland Museum of Art. The upcoming event at Stella Ishii’s 6397 showroom will also feature a Q&A with Dunn and Tom di Maria, interim executive director of Creative Growth Art Center. Ishii, owner of the News showroom and creative director of 6397, has supported Creative Growth for 20-plus years. Tuesday’s fundraiser will feature a performance by another Creative Growth advocate Joey Arias, who has volunteered his services for the benefit.

Attendees can purchase one-off Beyond Trend fashion items and art made by Creative Growth artists with all of the proceeds going to the nonprofit. There will also be portraits of the artists that Dunn photographed as part of her creative process. The sale will then continue at the 6397 store at 199 Mulberry Street in New York for a limited time. The craftsmanship in their fashion designs is timely, given the current appreciation for such labels as Bode, Dunn said.

Proceeds from the benefit will go toward supplies and other necessities tied to the artists’ work and the organizations’ operating costs. Before the pandemic struck, on average, 100 people would visit the art center daily to make work.

The Creative Growth documentary can also be streamed through Creative Growth Art Center’s site for a nominal benefit fee. Emphasizing how much she enjoys capturing that pure creative force and studying where inspiration comes from, Dunn said, “for all artists, getting in that zone where creativity and what you make are purely connected is really hard to get to. That is, I believe, what most artists like. That’s why you go to an artist residency and why you need to shut out the world.”

Dunn will soon release her film for another organization, a pandemic-born initiative that connected filmmakers with dancers as an avenue to get work out there. “I love dance and I love making dance films so that was thrilling to make,” Dunn said.

Through her years of working with Creative Growth artists, Dunn said she has never seen so many artists consistently live their lives in the zone. She added, “What I hope to share is having a greater understanding of alternate ability people.”

That requires everyone coming together for various forms of inclusivity, such as teaching sign language in schools. “This is the future — to normalize alternate ability people. There are artists there that have abilities far beyond mine,” Dunn said. She said she has a friend who can easily reference what TV program aired at an exact day and time in 1982.“ He said his mind is a time machine and he’s right. I can’t do that. These are things that I want to share.”

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