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How 'We Are Lions' Helps Artists With Mental Illnesses and Disabilities

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Most people don’t know who designed their favorite t-shirt or the pattern on their most-used mug, but We Are Lions, an online store that showcases the work of artists with mental illnesses and disabilities, wants to change that.

We Are Lions works with artists with disabilities and mental illnesses to produce functional pieces of art – from cellphone cases to t-shirts – bearing the artists’ designs. Each partner artist creates an original print and We Are Lions does the rest, printing, packaging and shipping all items. All products are moderately priced, ranging from $29 for a tote bag to $59 for a shower curtain.

“I believe art is the perfect platform for this change,” David Schwartz, founder of We Are Lions, told The Mighty. “Art is a means of acceptance and inspires communication. In order to facilitate this conversation productively, I started putting artwork made by the community on products people interact with every day.”

The idea for We Are Lions came from personal experience. “I had an incredible uncle, Larry. He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at a very young age,” Schwartz said. “Stigmas are real, it’s an unfortunate reality that people living with disabilities and mental illness have to face. When purchasing [products] made by the community, it empowers not only the person responsible for creating the product, but it chips away negative assumptions that are associated with disability and mental illness.”

In addition to empowering artists living with disabilities, We Are Lions, also employs them. Each participating artist receives royalties from items sold bearing their designs, with 50 percent of profits benefiting artists and nonprofit organizations. We Are Lions reaches out to artists they are interested in working with but also encourages artistically inclined people living with mental illnesses and disabilities to submit their artwork for consideration.

Originally published: December 21, 2016
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