Interview with Joel Knoernschild

Text: Yumiko Sakuma / Scarlett Johansson photos: Grant Cornett / Creative Growth Art Center Photos: Chris McPherson

When I first heard of Creative Growth for Everybody, I wasn't too into the name. That’s only because I didn't know it was a fashion project created to support artists at Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California.  It is the oldest non-profit art center in the country that provides a studio environment for artists with various developmental, mental and physical disabilities.  This fashion project, which mainly consists of T-shirts that have been endorsed by celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson and Drew Barrymore,  is now carried by more than 60 stores worldwide, and is in preparation to launch an online store in the coming months.  I reached out to Joel Knoernschild, the director of Creative Growth for Everybody, and asked him some questions.

Q. How did you get involved with Creative Growth Art Center and how was the brand conceived?
I was really fortunate to get introduced through Stella Ishii, the owner of the News Showroom in NYC.  She was supporting another collection that I was doing at the time (KZO), and she curated an art show at her showroom with Creative Growth artist Judith Scott.  We were speaking about Creative Growth one day and how much we loved the humor and honesty of the artwork, with the application of creating a fashion line around it. It was in the middle of the US recession. Everything was so heavy and pessimistic at the time, and we wanted to inject some humor and light into a dark time, as well as raise awareness for the artists and Creative Growth Art Center.
Q. How is the money from the brand helping the center?
The donations from the sales of Creative Growth for Everybody to Creative Growth Art Center go directly to help support the art studio — pens, paper, clay, paint, as well as the many other costs involved in running the Center.
Q. This is the first fashion project the Art Center is doing? How would it be different from their art related activities?
This is Creative Growth's first partnership in an ongoing fashion line.  The art made at Creative Growth is original and one-of-a-kind.  Creative Growth for Everybody acts as a fashion canvas.  It is able to represent many artists, their artistic styles and give people a chance to interact with the art through fashion, and learn about Creative Growth Art Center at the same time.
Q. From your personal experience, what do you want people to know?
Creative Growth literally has 50 – 80 artists with disabilities coming to the art center every day.  They are not only creating fine art, but making amazing movies, creative writing, textiles, wood shop, ceramics, and more.  It's a living, breathing organization which supports a lot of different talents.  I can't tell you how proud each artist is to see their artwork translated onto clothes and in a way, it becomes "real."  When artist Ray Vickers (a huge comic book fan) saw that Scarlett Johansson loved his art and was wearing "the Misunderstood" tee shirt for our campaign, he was blown away.  I got a big hug from his Mom and she said how proud she was.  Every day, the art center makes a difference for each of their lives.


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