Photograph by Alina Cruz

Elbow Room brings “accessible, uplifting” artist collective to LC’s Hoffman Gallery

Lewis & Clark’s Hoffman Gallery bustles with energy as clothes are strewn about the floor and artists work diligently at their craft. Local artist Chanel Conklin is preparing for her upcoming show, a horror exhibition featuring a haunted house installation covered in shredded thrift finds. Other artists paint, sculpt and muse, eager to put their thoughts into media.

On Mondays and Tuesdays this fall, the Hoffman Gallery is housing Elbow Room, a Portland-based art collective formed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization works to give local artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities an uplifting, judgment-free space to create.

“Our direct mission is keeping this community of artists connected and together and engaged with their art practice at home,” Co-founder and LC alumnus Malcolm Hecht ’15 said. “We had the particular concern of how powerfully impacted people with disabilities were during COVID lockdown.”

Hecht felt that the inaccessibility of public spaces for people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the need for art was greater than ever. So, after the closure of Project Grow, a contemporary art and farming initiative centered around accessibility, Hecht and five other members of the project formed Elbow Room in December 2020. Through a series of virtual art classes, the group sought to bring an artistic outlet into the homes of people with disabilities.

Though they still offer virtual classes, Elbow Room has expanded, traveling to community spaces around the Portland area for 30 hours a week. Their team of 8-10 artists and a rotating group of staff members host open studios across the city, including LC’s Hoffman Gallery on Mondays and Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

The group’s other rotating locations include the Oregon Society of Artists, the Independent Publishing Resource Center and the Headwaters Theater, all local organizations working to spread art to the public. During these studios, artists engage in a range of art forms, including ceramics, textiles, painting, drawing, sculpture and digital media.

Another significant focus of the group is amplifying the voices of its artists through community exposure. Hoffman Gallery will be hosting Chanel Conklin’s fall show, entitled “Chanel: The Last Vampire.” The exhibit, inspired by Conklin’s favorite Japanese horror films “Blood: The Last Vampire” and “The Grudge,” will showcase a mixed media experience. It is set to open at 6 p.m. on Oct. 29. 

Though Conklin specializes in digital media, the exhibit will house a full range of her work in installations and other imagery, giving LC a taste of the talent flowing through Elbow Room’s art spaces. Conklin, like many Elbow Room artists, got her start with the group through Project Grow, and has worked for months to curate her first ever show. Follow Conklin on Instagram @chanel_grudge to see more of her signature work.

While in Hoffman Gallery, Elbow Room also strives to collaborate with LC’s Art Department and student body to carry out shared visions for the organization. 

Ultimately, Elbow Room and the LC Art Department hope to engage students in their mission, amplifying the voices of both young people and people with disabilities to make a welcoming environment for creative expression. Additionally, they hope to inspire their artists in creating an Elbow Room Archive, where original work will be documented, photographed and organized to be appreciated for years to come.

A fresh and growing organization, Elbow Room brings together talented people across Portland to share a love for art and community. Hecht encourages students to engage with artists during open studio times in order to broaden the already strong connection between LC and Elbow Room.

“Come with questions and curiosity and a sense of wonder, because there are a lot of artists who all have a lot to share,” Hecht said. 

LC students who want to help promote Elbow Room’s mission can attend a virtual class (links and times found at www.elbowroom.party), donate via their Venmo @elbow-room-pdx to help contribute to the accessible sharing of art in the Portland area, or visit their Instagram page, @elbow.room.pdx. Interested students can also visit Hoffman Gallery for an open studio or art opening.

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