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Artwork by disabled Arkansan draws crowds to downtown Little Rock storefront



Little Rock, Arkansas – The Blue Umbrella is a shop operated under the Department of Human Services (DHS) that gives individuals with disabilities the chance to interact with the community and gain independence.

The only one of its kind in Arkansas, this storefront has been open for almost four years and gives all artists the chance to set their own prices and receive 100% of the sales.

“Everything in our store is made by individuals with disabilities, intellectual or developmental. And it started as a way for our clients at the human five human development centers throughout the state to earn money, earn a little bit of money, and it’s a way for them to gain a little bit of confidence along the way,” Erin Skrodenis, Blue Umbrella, Store Manager.

One of The Blue Umbrella’s greatest annual events, an open house displaying the new range of holiday merchandise as well as appearances from some of the artists and Santa Claus, is taking place today.

The Arkadelphia Human Development Center packaged art supplies, jams and jellies, wooden pens handcrafted by students at the School for the Deaf and Blind, blankets, snacks, and other stocking stuffers.

There is just such a fantastic display of talent. Everyone tends to categorize people with disabilities into a certain category, thus I believe that this is frequently overlooked. Because DHS is so focused on providing human services, I think some of the other initiatives we offer obscure the fact that this is a fantastic opportunity for both our customers and our staff.

A single piece for the Christmas showcase may take some clients six months to complete. There will be a showcase from 9 am to 3 pm.

One craftsman revealed his holiday creations. “Christmas wreaths and sometimes we make cards for people with little pieces on the front… Christmas cards,” Frankie Santiago, Blue Umbrella, Artist, said.

The Blue Umbrella claims to always be on the lookout for new artists to feature and does sell non-holiday-themed artwork all year long.

“You can’t walk into a retail store. We do have some wholesale items, but 95% of our items are handmade by clients our artists will refer our clients to as artists. They are unique one of a kind. When you see it, you need to buy it because it’s likely the only one that we have,” Skrodenis said.

The retailer has increased its reach by hiring inside the building. Store managers claim they take pleasure in highlighting the advantages of being a part of the DHS community.

“I also work with our two part-time workers. We have a young man that works every day of the week for about four and a half hours a day. And so we’re going to customer service skills, register counting reading. So hopefully to transition them into more permanent sustainable employment,” Shiloh Marlar, Blue Umbrella, Assistant Store Manager, said.

A few goods from The Blue Umbrella are offered at Human Development Centers all around the state, and some are also available for purchase online.

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