Project Onward is a nonprofit studio and gallery for professional artists with mental and developmental disabilities.
Project Onward supports the professional development of artists with exceptional talents and challenges, ranging from autism to mental illness, and provides these artists with workspace, materials, professional guidance, exhibition opportunities and access to markets to sell their work and advance their careers.
Project Onward is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and we rely on contributions from individual supporters to carry out our mission.
Studio and Gallery
The studio and gallery are FREE and open to the public Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-5pm, and on the 3rd Friday of each month until 9pm. In opening the studio and gallery to the public and activating the space with free public programs, Project Onward seeks to promote art as a powerful tool for understanding and valuing the real and potential contributions of our national population with disabilities. At Project Onward, art has become a unique medium for comprehensively and constructively discussing mental illness and developmental disabilities and re-framing the discussion around these artists’ abilities.
Housed on the Bridgeport Art Center’s 4th Floor, Project Onward presents group and solo exhibitions in three galleries: the Main Gallery, the Spotlight Gallery and Gallery B. These professionally curated spaces host regularly rotating exhibitions that feature art by Project Onward’s member artists. The gallery celebrates new openings monthly and invites collectors, supporters and the public to enjoy drinks and refreshment, explore the exhibitions and also engage with Project Onward artists while they work in the studio.
Become an Artist
Project Onward serves 50 artists, each with unique creative styles and facing diverse challenges, from autism to mental illness. All artists pass through a competitive selection process that evaluates their artistic talent, potential for creative growth and desire to advance as a professional artist before joining Project Onward. Member artists range in age from early-20s to early-70s and represent over 30 Chicago neighborhoods and several suburbs.
Artists who are interested in applying for participation in the Project Onward studio program must be 18 years or older and living with a developmental disability and/or mental illness, and have experience with personal art making. To learn more about our application process and eligibility requirements, click here to download an Artist Application.
On the 3rd Friday of each month, Project Onward is open late along with the many other galleries, studios and shops in the Bridgeport Art Center, along with several other galleries in the Bridgeport neighborhood, creating a vibrant cultural experience for visitors and residents alike.
All artwork in Project Onward’s gallery and studio are for sale. All profits from sales benefit the artists, contributing to the cost of work space, materials, creative guidance, promotional support and exhibitions. Additionally, each sale provides a critical source of direct income for the artist.
The artists involved in Project Onward represent more than 30 neighborhoods on the north, south and west sides of Chicago:
2010 and before: 25
2011 to present: 28
African American: 55%
Middle Eastern: 1%
Project Onward was founded in the summer of 2004 as a Gallery 37 pilot initiative for 6 artists who had aged-out of the local youth job-training organization’s program, but due to their disabilities they had no opportunities elsewhere to advance their artistic careers. After a successful year, the program became a part of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and moved to the Chicago Cultural Center, where it became a citywide resource and began serving artists outside of Gallery 37. The program quickly established itself and became locally recognized for the high quality of its artistic product and respected for its mission, and in 2008, the organization moved to larger quarters in the Cultural Center.
In 2013, after several years of progressive growth and increasing independence, Project Onward moved to a professional artists’ studio and gallery in the Bridgeport Art Center. After nine years as a city-led program, Project Onward began the transition to becoming an independent nonprofit. Project Onward celebrates 2014 not only as its tenth year as an artistic and social resource for Chicago, but as the first year of a dynamic new period of growth and creativity.
To learn more about Project Onward, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.