Two large sculptures, one, a red-drenched piece made of wood, ceramics, a mannequin arm and a feather boa; the other, an angel sparkling with pearls, beads, rhinestones and other jewels, are drawing attention to Gallery U, a new contemporary artspace at 310 Fourth St. in downtown Royal Oak. But for now passers-by can only gaze at the window art and get a peek of the paintings, mixed media, photography and other works inside.Gallery U will hold its grand opening during Arts, Beats & Eats, and what most visitors won't realize is that many of the artworks as well as gift items in the gallery boutique were created by people who have traumatic brain injuries and other neurological impairments. In fact, the day-to-day operations of the gallery will be run by people with disabilities who wish to recover and transition back into the community.
The progressive gallery and innovative vocational training program is the second of its kind formed by Universal Institute, a rehabilitation facility with corporate offices in Livingston, New Jersey and Troy, Mich.
“My philosophy is to have a mix of art so you really don't know who's a client, who's an emerging artist, who's an established artist,” said Robert Greco, executive director of Universal Institute in New Jersey and director of both the successful Gallery U in Montclair, New Jersey and the new space in Royal Oak.
“It's a very accessible gallery. Our price range is under $500. It's accessible to people who might have been intimidated by galleries before,” he said. “What I try to focus on is to let people know that the people who run it on a daily basis are people with traumatic brain injuries so … I just want (the public) to be sensitive to that.”
Greco is an artist himself and created the sculptures gracing the Royal Oak Gallery U windows. He was appreciative of the warm reception by local business owners during a one-night “soft-opening” this month.“Everybody was so welcoming and so gracious and willing to do things collaboratively,” said Greco, who admires the beautiful Royal Oak space which is probably three times the size of the New Jersey gallery. “If you're working with us, you're working with our clients, and I love that because it helps our clients to be accepted and to succeed in the community.”
“There are about 17 different vocations that someone can work on when they come to the clinic — jewelry making, textiles, food service, retail store, maintenance, events and activity planning, woodworking, fitness consultant, newsletter writing, editing and production. We have a stock club, e-commerce web site sales, pet care, horticulture, culinary arts, clerical assistance and a computer lab,” she described. “There is no place in Michigan that offers this kind of vocational setting. Our whole program is meant to empower people to be become all they can be, and the gallery is just one piece of that.”
With supervision from occupational therapists and other Universal Institute professionals, clients will perform a myriad of jobs in the gallery, from greeting guests, helping with purchases, and stocking and running the coffee bar to making items for the boutique and keeping the gallery clean.
“Our clients can say, ‘I have a real job. I'm working in a gallery in downtown Royal Oak, in the hippest part of town,'” Miller said. “We try to be positive and encouraging, and engage them and empower them, and give them every tool and every opportunity that can be afforded to them to make their life a little better.”
The grand opening and artist reception for Gallery U is 6-10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4. To learn more, call (248) 399-7322 or visit http://gallery-u.blogspot.com or www.uirehab.com.