Artist Michael Williams, who suffers from a sight-impairment known as Stargardt disease, may not have the best vision. But most would agree that he's a visionary.
In June, the award-winning artist launched the International Association for Sight-Impaired Artists-Global, a nonprofit aimed at empowering blind artists from all over the world.
The group will serve as an umbrella organization for chapters across the country, but so far, it only boasts a local chapter, the Memphis Association for Sight-Impaired Artists, which is headquartered out of the Memphis Center for Independent Living on Madison.
"There are blind artists all over the country, but before this, there was no centralized organization to pool everyone together to show off their work," Williams said. "It's a one-stop shop for artists to get their art and their foot into the door. We can help with getting work on the market and putting on art shows, auctions, festivals, and competitions."
The first such event will be an art show of regional work by sight-impaired artists at the Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired throughout the month of December. The Memphis Association for Sight-Impaired Artists is accepting submissions through November 15th. Williams is hoping to receive work from 20 artists, but he currently only has commitments from four artists, including himself.
"There are about 80,000 sight-impaired people in the Mid-South, and you would think there are a lot of people out there who could benefit from being involved in this show," Williams said. "There's an untapped resource for talent, and we want to find them."
Christina Clift, one of the organization's board members, has a theory on why they're having a difficult time locating blind artists.
"I think one of the reasons we haven't had as many artists come to the forefront is because when you're a child with any kind of disability, especially a visual disability, teachers are not trained on how to work with that child and get them involved in art," Clift said.
At age 10, Williams learned to paint from his mother, who painted landscapes as a hobby. Although his sight-impairment, a form of juvenile macular degeneration, only worsened as he aged, Williams simply adjusted the way he painted. His peripheral vision is okay, but he cannot see using the central part of his eyes.
In 2009, Williams entered his work into the American Printing House for the Blind's art contest. He won third place out of 400 entries. In the years that followed, Williams took home a second place and most recently, a first-place award in the competition.
"After I won first place, I decided that it was time for others to know about the opportunities out there for sight-impaired artists and go full steam ahead with this program," Williams said.
Williams would eventually like to open an art gallery in Memphis of work by blind artists, and the organization has plans for expanding their chapters city by city each year. Since the headquarters is in Memphis, Williams hopes to host an international competition for blind artists here next fall.
Visually impaired artists who would like to submit work for the first local art show in December should visit iasia-global.org for details.