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Passion Works spreads love and creativity throughout Southeastern Ohio

Story by Taylor Burnette

In the heart of Athens, Ohio sits an art studio full of creativity, love and acceptance.

Passion Works Studio was founded in 1998 after a string of grants from the Ohio Arts Council, working towards providing a creative space for artists with developmental differences. The focus of Passion Works, Patty Mitchell, the executive director and founder, said is to create a collaborative and creative environment for the artists to work in.

“Our focus is to work through the art content, ideas, passions and interests, of our core group of artists,” Mitchell said.

Passion Works also has a product line to provide employment for people with developmental differences while providing enriching, meaningful work. Passion Works’ signature product, the passion flower, made from upcycled metal and hand painted by Passion Works artists, was invented to provide the most job opportunities possible.

Although Passion Works makes a lot of flowers, each piece is unique, with different designs and patterns, Mitchell said.

“So the size, the palette, and the shape is consistent, but that combination within the color palette and the surface design is unique to each product,” Mitchell said, “So there’s an expectation that a customer can have in some particulars, but then there is the surprise of their unique item.”

Passion Works also sells an array of other products, all locally sourced or created, like their screen-printed clothing items sourced from Athens Makerspace, a local community creation studio. In the spirit of upcycling, many of Passion Works’s textile pieces are made with upcycled materials. Because of that, many of their other products, ranging from aprons, to baby bibs, to fabric art, are unique, one of a kind pieces.

However, their offerings do not end there. Passion Works also sells paintings, coasters, house and garden flags, jewelry and more. With so many unique, individual pieces, one would think it would be hard to have a certain style associated with Passion Works, but through color, energy and fun-filled designs, art from Passion Works’ is easily recognizable.

Mitchell believes that comes from the rawness of the art, and the artist’s willingness to put their feelings into their pieces.

“People have an expectation of people with developmental differences,” Mitchell said. “In our society, we typically keep people away from greater society, there’s not a lot of intermingling. Working with people closely for 25 years, I can tell you, it is such a pleasure to be surrounded by people who are so giving, and this just lovely spirit and willingness to come together and collaborate and enjoy the process. The work that they do is raw and beautiful.”

Passion Works extends far beyond the bounds of their shop and studio, now having a very prominent place in the community of Athens. In non-pandemic years, Passion Works does a giant Halloween parade, Mitchell said, and this year instead did a “parade in place” in May, where cars could drive by the yard of a house with people dancing in fun costumes made by Passion Works in years past.

“We’re always looking for the ‘yes’ and the solution, given whatever situation we have,” Mitchell said. “So we had a parade in place … and we had the puppets stay in place in front of this beautiful house … and the puppets danced on the front lawn, and then we invited the public to drive by.”

For Halloween of 2020, Passion Works did it again, but in a park with Halloween candy for kids this time.

Although the numbers of people who can be in the artist’s workshop has changed because of the pandemic, Passion Works is still dedicated to keeping their community of artists and others close, reaching out through virtual means and socially distanced ones when possible. The artists are still creating during this time        from home.

The Passion Works shop at 20 East State St. Athens, Ohio, remains open Monday through Saturday with social distancing and masks from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and many of their products can be purchased online on their website.

“We are interested in having the hand and the imagination, and the evidence of the human, of our friends, in the production of the product,” Mitchell said. “That is what is wildly different about Passion Works. We create products in response to the human instead of the humans responding to the expectation of the product.”