I feel so fortunate to have been born into such a large, creative and diverse family. It taught me to be sensitive to differences and to not judge on the surface. Not all disabilities can be seen. We are all very complex individuals with a lot of creative abilities as well as mental and physical disabilities.
I have always felt driven to use my talents as an Artist to serve the larger community which I got from my parents; my father a Jr High Guidance Councilor and my Mother an Art and Music Therapist. When I was in my teens I volunteered at the Dakota County Children’s Home for children with disabilities; I also went to group homes to perform dance and music with adults with disabilities with my sister to accompany my mother. Singing, dancing, creating with them stripped away my fears and inhibitions and I felt like I mattered. When I was 17 one of my many sisters received the bonus of a child with cerebral palsy when she married. I loved creating with Rachel and planning all her birthday parties for her and friends. Rachel helped me see the world through a whole new light.
After I graduated from the U of M, I had no idea of where I was headed! I traveled a very uncertain path; to help cope with my own struggle with anxiety and depression, I became a community Artist. I brought art to Nursing homes, Homeless Shelters, Schools, Bush Memorial Children’s Home, Free Arts MN, Hospitals, Clinics, Churches and on the streets of South and North Minneapolis. I always felt more comfortable creating with others than being alone in a studio.
To serve the community, I opened Simply Jane Open Artists Studio in 2007. I couldn’t afford much, but it was a lovely little corner storefront with a party room and restrooms down the stairs on the lower level. This was not ideal for elderly and physically disabled artists. As we grew I was certain that this WAS my path and I made the move to a new studio and made sure it would accommodate all people, all artistic abilities and those who are differently-abled. I started out Simply Jane and came to be, Simply ArtAble. (read more about Jane)
Robyn Smith : Administration Operations Manager
Robyn is an artist and teacher with a MA degree in Painting. She most recently spent 10 years teaching a wide range of studio arts and Art Appreciation at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges. There, she managed and curated a campus gallery and chaired the Fine Arts Committee. She also served several years on the board of a local community arts center. Prior to that, Robyn has many years’ experience teaching in the Seattle area at Seattle Central College, Edmonds Community College, Northwest Yeshiva High School, Seattle Art Museum, Tacoma Art Museum and Seattle Asian Art Museum, among others. She has also taught studio arts at multiple community arts centers, including Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle, Vashon Allied Arts, the Seattle Center and Coupeville Arts Center. She has taught Studio Arts to a diverse range of students of all demographics, ages and abilities. She recently joined the Simply Jane/ArtAble team and brings her multiple years of experience to the studio in an administrative and teaching role.
Jean Birkeli : Studio Floor Manager
Jean Birkeli is our primary teaching artist. Jean is a self-taught artist that has been painting professionally for over 25 years and been with Simply Jane since 2007. She has been commissioned to paint a variety of items including landscapes, portraits and painted rocks. Jean has also exhibited at the Minnesota State Fair in the Fine Arts Building and at local art studios in Minneapolis. She has a diverse background working with the elderly as well as teaching youth. Prior to coming to Simply ArtAble, Jean worked for the Minneapolis Park Board for over sixteen years and before that worked as certified nursing assistant for four years, working in nursing homes and caring for residents on a daily basis. Jean has extensive experience working with students with disabilities and meeting each artist at their own level. Also Jean and her family created May Day baskets for the past 9 years to give out to nursing home residents in Minnesota. Jean aided a girl scout troop for 9 years helping facilitate events as well as actively engaging a troop member with Down Syndrome in group activities. Jean greatly enjoys teaching art to people of all ages and abilities. Jean’s oil paintings and painted rocks are available for sale at the studio.
Mary Elias : Studio Assistant
Mary Elias is an MCAD graduate and has been painting, sculpting and performing her music throughout the US for the past 40 years. Mary’s “Jazz and Blues Series” (pictured right) cards and prints are available for sale at the studio.
Peder Hagen : Studio Assistant
Peder was hired through Autism Works and 2013. As a young child Peder was involved in the Mankato Ballet and the Mankato Children’s Choir. Peder was active in his high school theater department, appearing in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Les Miserables.” As a teenager, he worked at LifeWorks in Mankato, an organization for artists. In September 2005, Peder joined the Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts. In 2008 Peder exhibited his work at Midway Gallery in Minneapolis. Peder’s arts education includes writing and color theory classes at North Hennepin Community College. He is currently a member of the Twin Cities’ Gay Men’s Chorus and works part time at Crayola Experience at the Mall of America. Peder is passionate about the arts because he believes in the expression of humanity and personal identity through expressive forms of art.
Summer Camp Instructors
In addition to Jane and Jean (above), our summer camp staff includes:
Oliver Elias-Churilla: Oliver has been in South High School’s ceramics program for the past four years. He instantly felt working with clay was his new passion. He has been his teacher’s assistant for the past year and with that experience his work has blossomed. He has shown his work in a few student art shows including Viva City and Mottos Locus. He studied at The Northern Clay Center and loves spreading his passion for ceramics to others.
Gail Kiltie: Gail is the founder and proprietor of Joyful H’Arts Studio. Her unique style of instruction creates a fun and relaxed atmosphere for all skill levels…especially beginners! She assures you that she’s the “paint whisperer” and can help you discover creativity.
Anna Lundin: Anna is graduating this spring from the University of Wisconsin – Stout with a degree in comics and sequential art. Her comics have been in several publications made in collaboration with other Stout students. Since she was little, she’s loved designing characters and creating stories, the first being a stapled booklet about hamsters exploring the jungle. With her experience nannying, leading summer camps, and being a big sister, she is ready to enthusiastically teach kids about comics and superheroes!
George Marshall: George just finished his sophomore year at the University of Colorado Boulder studying Technology, Arts, and Media. He is a sponsored kendama player for Sweets Kendamas and also loves to snowboard in the mountains, and play ultimate frisbee. Jane Elias is his mom, so he has been involved with Simply Jane since he was a young child. He loves working with kids and couldn’t be more excited to help out this summer!
Beth Rapatz: Beth has a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustration from the Art Institute of Boston and a K12 teaching license and master’s in art education from the University of Minnesota. She has been working as a freelance illustrator and teaching in a variety of media for over 10 years, including five years on staff at Simply Jane/ ArtAble. In her current position as an art teacher with Minneapolis Public Schools, she has developed and implemented curriculum in design and digital media.
Karen Savage: Karen is a mosaic artist and teaches mosaic classes for children and adults. She is also a Speech/Language Pathologist for Minneapolis Public Schools. Her previous experience includes teaching children and adults with special needs.