March 3, 2017
You will love Irondale living and exploring the hidden treasures of Birmingham. Last week, we were excited to visit The Studio by the Tracks in Irondale on our way from nearby Grants Mill Crossing Townhomes. If you are familiar with the Irondale Historic District, you probably passed a renovated service station, with an art gallery located by the train tracks on the way to the iconic Irondale Café.
The Studio by the Tracks (SBTT) opened 28 years ago to provide an art studio for at-risk children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The Studio is less about art lessons and more about maintaining a kind and safe place to create artworks. The unique concept at SBTT is that the students are not charged tuition, fees, or supply costs. The adult students are paid a 60% commission for any work created and sold, just like a working artist.
The studio has a small shop where anyone can purchase the artwork created at the Studio. Next to the shop, is a spacious art studio flooded by natural light, tables, various types of artwork, and art supplies. I met the teachers and students who were diligently working on their artwork. Suzanne Boozer, the Studio director, spoke with passion about each piece of art made by their students. Suzanne is clear about the mission of the Studio:
“Because in art, there is no right or wrong, there is only beauty. Our students focus on strengths and interests rather than limitations. Students explore their own creativity in a setting that nurtures self-esteem and cultural interaction. The overall goal of our work at Studio by the Tracks is to enhance the quality of lives of our students and to provide an avenue for self-confidence and social interaction through art.”
Ila Faye Miller, founder of the Studio by the Tracks in Irondale, shared some of the studio’s history with me. She worked as the Vocational Director at the Alan Cott School for children with autism from the mid 80’s until 1989. This is when she started an on-site job-training program for students sixteen years of age and older. During her time in this position, she realized the dilemma that these children and their parents faced as they aged out of the school. There was a severe lack of services at that time for adults with autism. Ila Faye teamed up with Maralyn Wilson and they opened Studio By The Tracks in 1989. Since then, they have been offering the Adult Programs with a goal to bridge the gap between adult autistic artists and the outside world from which they are most often isolated. By working to develop and polish the artistic and life skills of these artists, the Studio hopes to achieve their inclusion within the greater Birmingham community.
The studio is also offering a Children’s Program. Most of the children in the program are in the custody of the state of Alabama due to serious abuse and/or neglect. They are living at the Daniel Houses at Glenwood where they have been classified as severely emotionally disturbed. Studio by the Tracks seeks to replace negative self-images with positive ones through classes and activities involving the visual arts. The staff and teachers at the Studio know that the time spent in art class is likely to be the brightest spot in their residential stay for these children. The daily evaluations that the children and staff conduct consistently confirm this.
“A benefit for our adult students is that their work is exhibited and sold at our events and in our gallery, giving them an opportunity for income as well as interaction with the public. Our overall belief at Studio by the Tracks is that our students and their art add a great value to the Birmingham community.” – Ila Faye Miller
Additionally, the Studio provides a consistent venue for group socialization as well as one-on-one interaction with the staff, trained volunteers and the community at large. 2016 was a record-breaking year for Studio by the Tracks! The student commissions were larger than ever, with gallery shows and online sales creating more opportunities for income for the students. The Studio paid out over $33,000 in commissions to its adult students last year, up more than $15,000 from the year before. Fantstic!
In 2017, the Studio will continue to promote the works of the adult students as emerging and increasingly important contributors to the contemporary art world. Some of the artwork is currently presented at the Grand Bohemian Gallery in Mountain Brook.
The Studio by the Tracks in Irondale is an inspiring place with an amazing heart for helping people deliver truly outstanding artwork. Stop by their online store to purchase a great piece of art for your Birmingham home from a local artist. Follow them on Instagram as well.