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Portraits, Books, Ornaments: Just In Time for the Holidays

Lots of people have heard of poetry slams — but what about a portrait slam?

 The Chicago Cultural Center hosted Portrait Slam! last weekend to showcase the talents of artists with disabilities. Customers could buy portraits for as little as $20 in the slam, which was organized by Project Onward.

 “I can almost promise I can make you look 100 times better than any celebrity,” said Andrew Hall, one of the artists who was completing portraits. “I have two appointments and have completed two walk-in portraits already.”

 The slam is held several times a year and affords artists an opportunity to sell their work, earn money and interact with their customers.

 About 15 artists were available for walk-in, original portraits at the event. Artists’ works were displayed at tables to give customers examples of portraits for sale.

 “We usually do Portrait Slams every couple of months,” said volunteer worker Jaimee Schueller. “It’s a really good way for us to help the artists interact with people and show off their talents.”

 Portrait Slam! events were created by Project Onward in 2009 after the recession made it more difficult for people to sell their artwork. The founders of the program, Mark Jackson and Rob Lentz, chose to offer affordable portraits with individual artists starting at $20.

 “This is my first time participating in a Portrait Slam!,” said artist Jacqueline Cousins, who incorporates professional women wrestlers into her portraits.

 In addition to showcasing their drawings, many artists used the Portrait Slam! to show off other talents.

 “I’ve written three books about mental disability awareness so far,” said artist Motesem Mansur. “I’m a mental health advocate for Illinois, and I also really enjoy writing and drawing, so I sell books and will hopefully get enough money to help me raise money to go to college at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. That’s my ultimate goal.”

 In one of Mansur’s books, “Travis’s Barbecue,” the main character is discriminated against because of his intellectual disability. After discovering that he has talents despite his disability, he uses his newfound skill to help a community and show that it’s OK to be different.

 Mansur has appeared on ABC 7 Local and in a November 2010 story in the Chicago Tribune. All of Mansur’s books are available for purchase at the Chicago Cultural Center for $8.

 Another artist, Fernando Ramirez, displays hand-crafted ornaments and painted bottles at his portrait table to help him develop a multi-platform sales approach.

 “I’ve been doing these ornaments and bottles for years now,” said Ramirez. “Whenever I am doing a portrait I always mention them and people love purchasing them for gifts. A lot of people send in pictures of their dogs or cats, and then I paint it onto the ornament or bottle in my own style.”

Ramirez accepts requests for personal artwork starting at $30; his work can also be found in the Chicago Cultural Center.

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