San Francisco multidisciplinary artist Ana Teresa Fernández has always loved languages, even before she found her calling as an artist. She spent her formative years in Mexico before relocating with her family to suburban San Diego at 11 years old, and then spent a year in Switzerland before she finished high school. A budding polyglot by then, Fernández saw a future for herself in linguistics. But after her artwork was discovered in a community college class, a new syntax materialized in front of her: She would become an artist.

“When you learn languages, it’s like you get to explore the world all over again,” Fernández says. “It’s not that far off to think that I would end up being an artist, because art is probably one of the most generous languages that I see.”

Over the last two decades, Fernández has shown her work, taught and lectured at universities and venues all over the world, from Brazil to Haiti to Spain. But it wasn’t until 2018 that she got an opportunity that had been forming right under her nose. Creativity Explored, a nonprofit based in the Mission District that has provided art classes and community enrichment to adults with developmental disabilities since the 1980s, invited her in for a chat.

That chat became an interview for visiting artist-in-residence, that residency became a show and that show has evolved into a virtual exhibition of student work across multiple art forms. Fernández and Creativity Explored, with help from Gray Area and New Art City, present “Of Here From There | De Aquí Desde Allá,” an immersive and bilingual virtual exhibition of multimedia pieces by Creativity Explored artists over the course of 2019. The virtual gallery will be accessible on the New Art City digital platform through June 30.

A preview of the virtual exhibition “Of Here From There | De Aquí Desde Allá” (2021 © Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC)

Founded in 1983 by Florence and Elias Katz, Creativity Explored began as a reaction to funding cuts of institutions for adults with disabilities under President Ronald Reagan; thousands of adults were back at home without economic or educational opportunities, or even a place to hang out. The organization currently works with approximately 130 artists, and has hosted multiple online shows since the onset of the pandemic, but this is the first of its kind that can be walked through with a computer or smartphone.

The immersive installation uses layers of recorded audio from artists and guest teachers as well as a 3D rendering of a walkable gallery to create a sense of place within a “Pandora’s box,” the same sense that Fernández had when she first stepped into the Creativity Explored studio on 16th Street.

“Art is essential to life. Everyone deserves the opportunity for the right to creative expression,” says Michael Korcek, the organization’s director of marketing and brand partnerships. “We are a diamond in the rough.”

The project with Fernández began in 2019, with Fernández working with Creativity Explored artists and guests like musician Tommy Guerrero to not only create art, but also capture the tangible practice of her fellow artists’ craft.

Joseph “JD” Green’s artwork “Markmaking” was drawn at Creativity Explored. (2021 © Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC)

The original project, which included multimedia elements, recordings and life-size sculptures adapted from artists’ drawings, was scheduled to be shown at San Francisco Art Institute’s Fort Mason campus starting in March 2020. It ran briefly last year in the last remaining days before San Francisco went into shelter-in-place, but without the impact everyone had hoped for. So the organization spent 2020 working with Gray Area who translated an exhibition from a building to a hall made of pixels.

In addition to the show, Creativity Explored hosts more than 30 hours of virtual classes a week, and routinely provides specialized art kits for artists to keep up with their practices, which include ceramics, sculpture, drawing and painting. Prints of artists’ works are also available for purchase on the Creativity Explored website.

Many of the artists have been at Creativity Explored for years, producing work that has been shown at venues and events around the Bay Area. But even if the art wasn’t on the wall, its very existence is what matters. San Francisco native Ming Choi has been an artist with the organization since 2009, with a drawing style influenced by comics, animated films and politics.

“I like drawing,” Choi says. “Making stuff on paper, I feel like I can find a way to express the things I feel … catharsis.”

Laron Bickerstaff shows his completed painting at Creativity Explored. (Photo courtesy Creativity Explored)

* “Of Here From There | De Aquí Desde Allá,” presented by Ana Teresa Fernández, Creativity Explored and Gray Area, runs through June 30 on New Art City. Explore the virtual exhibition here:

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