Bayside artists from CIDA make ‘Utopia’ debut at St. John’s art gallery

Jennifer Kim, a Bayside artist, stands next to her collage that was inspired by her childhood and future aspirations.
Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

A remarkable moment unfolded at St. John’s University as 10 talented artists from CIDA, a Bayside non-profit dedicated to providing opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities, celebrated their collective debut.

The exhibition, titled “Utopia: Selected Works from the CoSpire Art Initiative,” graced the halls of the Yeh Art Gallery, within the university’s Jamaica campus Thursday evening.

The CoSpire Initiative, born several years ago, was conceived with a noble mission—to empower practicing artists and usher them into the fiercely competitive art world. With each passing semester, a select group of 12 artists undergoes a transformative journey, receiving invaluable training from seasoned art professionals and expert guidance on navigating the intricacies of the industry.

“Our goal is to cultivate these individuals into professional artists, paving a path towards a sustainable career where their creations can command competitive prices, ultimately enabling them to generate a substantial income,” said Dr. Young Seh Bae, the founder and executive director of CIDA.

Dr. Bae said that she never envisioned the possibility of elevating artists when she founded CIDA seven years ago. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

CIDA, which provides workforce training for young adults with disabilities such as autism, recently celebrated its 7-year anniversary in Bayside. The non-profit also offers resources for parents such as support groups in several languages, and advocacy workshops on education and healthcare.

Max Warsh, the director of Yeh Art Gallery, began visiting CIDA’s community center on Bell Boulevard in November where many pieces created by members line the walls. Over the course of several visits, he worked with CIDA’s staff to select the pieces that would be on display.

“The work is so amazing,” said Warsh, noting that narrowing down the selections was the hardest part of the process.  “It’s so great to really bring it into the space and see what happens when you put the work up in a professional atmosphere and really bring out the best.”

Warsh curated the exhibit by placing contrasting pieces side by side. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Jennifer Kim, one of the artists who had several of her pieces, ranging from notebook sketches large multimedia collages on display at Yeh Art Gallery, has been creating art since middle school. But she began to delve deeper into the process when she joined the CoSpire initiative last year. She says that being part of the program, and creating art in general, has been a therapeutic way to cope with mental health issues.

“Things weren’t really working out for me before I went to the CIDA program,” said Kim, who resides in Bayside. “But it helped me get out of my funk and feel more motivated to do my art and see my talent on display. Now I feel accomplished. I feel proud of myself.”

The exhibit was featured inside Yeh Art Gallery at St. John’s University in Jamaica. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

The theme of Utopia emerged during the selection process, and to both Bae and Warsh, it felt like a natural representation of the group.

“Their worlds that they create are these kind of utopian sort of spaces that they’re forming in the artwork itself. So, it almost didn’t even need a thematic structure,” said Warsh. “These worlds were naturally being constructed already to some degree.”

While he usually prefers to curate shows with a minimalistic style, when looking through the pieces created by CIDA’s members, he decided that the show’s energy would be stronger with everyone’s contrasting pieces that showcase their own internal utopia, in close proximity.

The exhibit also features a display case with each artist’s own sketchbooks to give viewers a glimpse into the creative process. By showing more than just the finished product, the exhibit highlights the early details of ideas that grew into full blown pieces. 

Families part of CIDA showed attended the opening reception on Thursday. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

“Hopefully it doesn’t feel too crowded, even though there are a lot of works in there,” said Warsh. “But I think there is a room for everyone’s voice to kind of come through.”

The Yeh Art Gallery has featured exhibits from international artists, as well as many locally from Queens. Another exhibit currently on display, Cevallos Brothers, features colorful hand drawn posters that were on display at storefronts along Roosevelt Avenue in Corona and Jackson Heights. 

The Utopia exhibit will be on display until Mar. 23. Afterwards, the pieces will be available for purchase from CIDA.