It’s the seemingly innocuous question we all ask when meeting someone new, “What do you do?” At grant recipient Creative Clay, the teen and adult students have developmental disabilities. Yet, they are proud to share their answer, the title of artist.

“I made my own movie called Armstrong and Beanie,” says 22-year-old Marquise as he prepares an oversized board for a layer of paint.

“A lot of my work is Mayan and Aztec designs,” says smiling 26-year-old Ali. “I had my own solo exhibition and sold a painting and two decorated guitars.”

“It took me forever to do this work with my own hand, my own time, my own patience,” 21-year-old Tanisha beams as she shows off her Minion-themed snowman statue. “And I get to sell my art. It makes me feel like I’m a rich lady!”

Creative Clay offers a variety of arts programs for adults and children with disabilities, veterans and those in health care settings, according to Executive Director Kim Dohrman. Local artists work, and sometimes volunteer as teachers, to those with cognitive, physical or emotional challenges. The soulful work they produce can rival folk art pieces collected by art lovers everywhere. Along with artistic techniques and the skills needed to sell their works, Creative Clay artists gain confidence and a sense of achievement.

“It makes me feel happy and pretty good about what I do,” says Marquise.

“Our whole vision is to make the arts accessible to all,” says Dohrman. “We survive thanks to individual community donors and foundations like the Pinellas Community Foundation (PCF).”

State funding for Creative Clay programs continues to shrink. Yet, Dohrman says the cost of art supplies just keep growing, and community support is vital.

PCF provides funds for those operating expenses from unrestricted funds contributed by a variety of caring donors. The Theodore and Marian Tonne Cultural Outreach Grant helps to fund Creative Clay’s Art Around the World inclusionary summer camp for children ages six through twelve of all abilities. In both instances, Creative Clay applies annually for these grants through PCF’s thoughtful and thorough review process.

Dohrman says it’s about more than dollars. “PCF staff really do connect person-to-person with our organization. They actually want to get to know us and what we’re doing. I feel like the people at Pinellas Community Foundation really care.