Local painter opens Rising Crow Gallery for artists with disabilities

About two years ago, city artist Rising Crow, formerly known as Jesse McKinney, had the idea to start a gallery that displayed work by artists with disabilities.

“Having been an artist with cerebral palsy for over 20 years, I wanted to give others with disabilities an opportunity to enter the professional art world more easily than I did,” he said.

The first thing he had to do was find a place, which was difficult due to financial constraints.

“It was my girlfriend Susanna who actually reminded me to investigate the possibility of renting space at Roads to Freedom,” he said. “Her wise suggestion paid off because my dream of opening a gallery that caters to artists with disabilities is now a reality.”

Rising Crow has been friends with Renee Sluzalis, the chief executive officer at Roads to Freedom, the Center for Independent Living of Northcentral Pa., 24 E. Third St., for many years.

“She has always been extremely supportive in assisting me in my various endeavors from bodybuilding to art,” he said.

The gallery will tout the name that the artist was given by his Cherokee grandmother, “Rising Crow,” and will be called the Rising Crow Gallery.

“Last summer … grandmother Red Leaf, who holds the prestigious title of ‘Most Beloved Woman’ of the Cherokee Nation – a title much like Dalai Lama to the Cherokee people – asked Spirit for my true name. Rising Crow came to her from Spirit.”

Rising Crow means “One who is rising towards the higher medicine.”

The gallery will feature art made by people with disabilities but, Rising Crow said, will be more about the art than the artists’ daily struggles.

“This gallery is based upon ability not disability,” he said. “I want guests talking about the artwork, not disabilities!”

And when Rising Crow says “ability,” he means it.

“If you lack ability and talent in the arts, this is not the venue for you,” he said. “But if you do possess ability and talent your work will be displayed in the most professional and artistic manor possible.”

The artwork featured in the gallery won’t just be on display, it will be for sale as well.

“One of the primary goals of the gallery is to be a source of sustainable income for those who participate in it,” he said. “Small businesses are the backbone of a healthy economy. Even people with disabilities can help rebuild our country.”

Two of the first batch of artists that will show in the gallery are Shawn Starr and James Baker. Starr is the living services coordinator at RTF and Baker is a peer support coordinator.

Rising Crow looks forward to the gallery participating in First Fridays and featuring local music. He’s had several musicians, including Steve Mitchell, Ann Kerstetter, Lena Yeagle and the Uptown Music Collective, already contact him to say that they’d love to perform at the site.

He hopes to have new exhibitions each month but is unsure of how many artists he’ll be able to find.

“It is not exactly a huge percentage of the general population I’m dealing with here,” he said. “Hopefully, as the gallery attracts more artists, we can work up to monthly shows featuring new artists with disabilities.”

If you are an artist with disabilities and would like your work to be considered for the gallery, contact Rising Crow at ironmonk68@yahoo.com or call Roads to Freedom at 327-9070.