This Texas Art Studio Celebrates Artists with Disabilities

At Houston's Sandal Gap Studio, creativity fosters community.

When Lisa Eicher (above center) and her husband, Joey, adopted their son, Archie, who has Down syndrome, her eyes were opened to a new world. "I started to realize just how afraid people were of difference," she says. Curious children would point or stare when they walked by, and parents, embarrassed by their behavior, would quickly shut them down. Eicher often wished they'd ask questions instead. "If we don't have those conversations and make people comfortable, then we're never going to have the inclusion that our community really desires."

Like her mom, Archie's sister Ace (above left) was eager to build an environment where those fears could be put to bed. For months, the family brainstormed what that might look like. Something clicked when her older sister, Sevy (above right), who has Down syndrome and is nonverbal, began painting. Ace says, "It made me think, 'What if there are other people with disabilities in the world who also love to paint and be creative?' " So the Eichers started Sandal Gap Studio (@sandalgapstudio).

Lisa Eicher of Sandal Gap Studio with her children Ace and Archie
Tracy Robinson

Named after the space that many people with Down syndrome, including Archie and Sevy, have between their first two toes, the studio nurtures artists with disabilities and fosters opportunities for the Houston community to get to know them personally. "We're using art as this great equalizer," says Lisa. "People are free to come be who they are, create together, and break down barriers."

It's a place that sparks growth and wonder for the girl who dreamed it up too. "I've learned so much about inclusion," says Ace. "Even if you can't talk, you can still be creative and have a lot of things going on in your mind."

While COVID has put a damper on many of their plans for the studio, there are still ways to support its mission in the meantime. You can support Sandal Gap Studio's work by following them on Instagram (@sandalgapstudio), buying art supplies from their Amazon wish list, or, for Houston residents, registering for a safe Second Saturday event, where aspiring artists can participate in a group art project.

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