Inside Outsider Art: Music alumna uses art to connect Lincoln insiders and outsiders

Mandi Miller (’13) contributed reporting to this article.

With hair dyed blue, a hoop in her nose and a stud in her lip, Courtney Moncrief (’08) knows what it’s like to stand out in a crowd—to be labeled disparagingly as different. As a Nebraska Wesleyan Music Department alumna Moncrief also knows what it means to belong to a community. She knows how it feels to forge a real connection with people through art.

We focus on the fact that art changes lives.

“For most of my life, I didn’t realize that Lincoln had a vibrant arts community… (filled with) people who viewed the world the way I do,” Moncrief said. “But when I opened up and explored my art, I found myself.” For her, art is “how I confirm who I am.”

Moncrief’s empathy for the disconnected and her respect for art’s ability to connect serve her well as assistant director of Live Yes Studios in downtown Lincoln. There, she manages arts-related services geared for a different group of outsiders: adults with developmental disabilities.The personal interactions at Live Yes Studios bring out the best in students and teachers alike.

Live Yes Studios uses a full music and recording room, several art stations and a growing theatre arts studio to provide an unusual blend of arts programming for people with disabilities. Managed by Resources for Human Development, Live Yes Studios is one of only five arts day programming centers of its kind in the U.S., and is staffed by artists trained in multiple media.

“I’m excited about Live Yes Studios because this is a place where art is alive,” Moncrief said. Colorful supporting evidence surrounded her on the studio walls. Mosaics, drawings and vivid paintings hung on all sides. She spoke about the classes that produced these pieces, saying, “I have seen tremendous growth in the adults’ ability to express themselves and come to a deeper sense of self-realization through art.”

That growth comes as no surprise to Sandra McBride (’84), who teaches in Nebraska Wesleyan’s English Department and serves as advisor to students with disabilities. “Art provides insight into the artist’s perception of the world,” McBride said. “When the artist has a disability, their work can often communicate their perceptions more effectively than more conventional means.”

That work is on display and available for purchase at Live Yes Studios, which recently joined Lincoln’s popular First Friday Art Walk. Clients’ art is gaining attention as more than a mere byproduct of a positive therapy program for people with disabilities. One Live Yes artist, Lindsay Baker, exhibited her paintings last February at the Sanford L. Smith and Associates Outsider Art Fair in New York City. And many Live Yes artists have found welcome buyers in the Lincoln community.

Courtney MontcriefThose sales provide clients a much-needed source of income. “But that’s not what we focus on at Live Yes,” Moncrief said. It’s more about a connection than a sale to Moncrief. She knows passersby may see the clients coming in and out of Live Yes as different—as “disabled”—but inside that special place, teachers and students are respected as talented individuals with visions to share. When community members open themselves to those perspectives, insiders and outsiders connect.

“We focus on the fact that art changes lives,” Moncrief said. “It gives them an identity. It helps build their self-esteem. They learn new behaviors to replace things in their lives that they aren’t happy with. Art helps them make their lives their own.”`

Courtney Moncrief describes the studio and its impact on people’s lives at liveyesstudios.com.