Photo By: Courtesy of Phil Shemanski
The source of inspiration can come from a variety of things. For Los Altos resident Phil Shemanski, it came from his profound love for his 21-year-old autistic daughter, Naomi.
Realizing the limited employment opportunities for his daughter, Shemanski recently founded Renewing the Renaissance, a for-profit company that employs artistically gifted, high-functioning adults with autism and other medical and executive functioning challenges.
“It became apparent to me that once these kids who have challenges graduate from high school, that society has not nearly as much support for them,” Shemanski said of the idea behind his new company. “There is some support at disability centers for those who are able to go on to college. But if they don’t, or if they struggle, it becomes much less clear where the support is going to come from, particularly once they become adults and they move out of the house.”
Shemanski said he decided specifically to focus on art to give artistically gifted adults with challenges an opportunity to let their talents shine and offer them a way to make a living.
“Nobody was focused on art for adults, I felt,” he said. “There’s a lot on the technology side but not much on the art side. … Some of (the artists) were very close to being evicted from their homes. Having this job is a lifesaver for some of them.”
The company offers original paintings and sculptures for purchase through its online gallery, as well as the opportunity to commission artwork.
Each piece of art, Shemanski said, was created by one of his company’s seven artists, who live in various parts of the United States, including California, Washington, Arizona, Georgia and Illinois.
In addition, Shemanski’s company offers public and private companies the opportunity to purchase artwork as a way to memorialize or recognize business achievements and individual employees. The idea behind this component, he said, stems from the Renaissance period itself.
“Many of the painters of the Renaissance were supported by patrons,” he said. “There are many companies that have done very well that could support the arts more.”
Shemanski hired former art gallery manager Cliff Behl to assist his artists in creating commissioned and original work. Among other things, Behl mentors the artists and provides direction from start to finish.
“Being artists with challenges, there’s oftentimes a lot of insecurity about whether the painting is done or whether it’s right,” Shemanski said. “So he kind of provides the voice of reason and helps them complete the painting.”
While Shemanski is focused on art, his business also requires the use of modern technology. To that end, he provided all of the artists with a computer and camera to document their work and communicates with them regularly through Skype. Each commissioned piece includes a time-lapsed “creation chronicle” that documents the creative process through the eyes of the artist.
Although his company is still in its infancy, Shemanski envisions a day in the future where others “pick up the gauntlet” and offer employment to artistic adults with challenges throughout the world.
“Even though the company is set up as a for-profit company, it’s really meant to be a for-profit company with social responsibilities,” he said. “Ideally, over five to 10 years, there will be a global renewal of the Renaissance. I know it works, because I’ve seen it work the past four months.”
For more information, visit www.renewingtherenaissance.com or www.renaissancerenewed.com.