Doggy by Stella Peterson

Our Mission

‍Art Explorers, Inc. is a creative arts program and progressive studio in Fort Bragg, California, serving developmentally disabled and neurodiverse artists. We are a nonprofit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt corporation. Our mission is to provide a fun, nurturing, non-judgmental, and artistically stimulating environment for creativity to thrive

Annamarie DeAngelo at work

We believe that art is a universal language without rules, restrictions, or cultural boundaries. Our studio is an inclusive place where magic happens! And our philosophy is rooted in total respect for the individual and in the core belief that all people have a unique artistic voice that deserves to be heard.

We facilitate the connections between the studio artists and the greater Mendocino County arts community through a guest artist program, art related field trips, and the exhibition and sale of artwork in the studio gallery, online, and at local galleries and businesses. We work to broaden this web of connectivity further through national juried art competitions and have participated in exhibits in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area; Washington D.C.; Baltimore; and Philadelphia; with artwork in private collections worldwide– from Japan to Europe.

Art transforms lives and opens a window to the deepest expressions of the human spirit. Art Explorers provides individuals with the dedicated time, space and energy to support creativity and positive community building.

“Doing art blows my mind! It’s the most fun things I get to do. I feel honored and proud when people see my art. There are just positive vibes all around the studio,” says Wiley West, Art Explorers artist.

Our History

Co-founders Kristin Otwell and Joan Burleigh met at a women’s art group on the Mendocino Coast. Joan had a background in social work and education, and was working at the Harrison Street House, a group home in Fort Bragg for adults with developmental disabilities. Kristin had recently moved north from the Bay Area, where she had taught young children with disabilities and had volunteered at Creative Growth in Oakland– the first program in California for artists with developmental disabilities. Joan proposed they join forces to create an art program at the Harrison Street House for one afternoon a week and what would become the Art Explorers studio program was born.

Wiley West and his artwork

“We started as volunteers in 1992, painting at the dining room table with the six residents of the home.” Kristin remembers, “Soon friends asked if they could join as well.”

As more people wanted to participate, they needed a bigger space and funding to pay for art materials. “We got a $500 grant from Thanksgiving Coffee and moved into a borrowed space in 1996. We formed a nonprofit in 2000, and one of the artists officially named our program Art Explorers. We expanded into a weekday program in 2002, with support from the Redwood Coast Regional Center and a grant from a private foundation.”

A short timeline of Art Explorers: 

1992: Started as a Saturday morning art class by Joan Burleigh and Kristin Otwell at the Harrison Street House in Fort Bragg.

1994: Had their first art show in town at Daly’s (now called the Company Store).

2000: Became a nonprofit art program, open four days a week, with 12 artists coming on a regular basis. Moved to the Oak Street location. 

2007: Moved to Redwood Avenue and started hosting public gallery shows and First Friday events. 

2018: Moved to the current location at 333 N. Franklin Street in December. More than 25 artists participate on a weekly basis.

2019: Received Mayor’s Well-Done Award for “Best Creative Community Organization”.

2023: Art Explorers has grown to 40 artists in the studio. We are proud to have artwork exhibited locally and nationally, as well as published in periodicals including Quickest Flip Magazine, www.quickestflip.org. The art program continues to build relationships with other progressive art studios such as NIAD (Richmond, CA) and Creative Growth (Oakland, CA) through art exchanges, virtual dance parties, and beyond.

Our Staff

Maria Trombetta
Director / Teacher

I grew up in Sonoma County, but spent many summer vacations with my grandparents, exploring the beaches of the Mendocino coast. I love Northern California and am so fortunate be able to call this place home.

I’ve been interested in art, writing and psychology since I was a kid—I blame my parents—my mother is a poet, my father is an artist and worked for 30 years as a psychiatric technician at the Sonoma Developmental Center. I started volunteering in Special Education classrooms as an aide in 1996, and have worked in the Human Services field since then.

In 1998, I was given the opportunity to study Art History and photography in London. I spent a few years traveling around Europe and learning all kinds of life lessons. I decided to pursue a degree in journalism, to be able to tell stories that needed to be told. I graduated from San Francisco State University in 2006 and wrote for the Oakland Tribune and the Sonoma Index-Tribune.

I am so honored to be able to be a part of Art Explorers—when we moved to Fort Bragg in 2008; I fell in love with the program and the beautiful work that was being created there. The students’ dedication to their art is nothing short of amazing. I find that being here at Art Explorers inspires me to work harder on my own creative endeavors and injects me with optimism.

Our Staff

Maria Trombatta and Kevin Pearl
Maria Trombetta
Co-Director / Teacher

I grew up in Sonoma County, but spent many summer vacations with my grandparents, exploring the beaches of the Mendocino coast. I love Northern California and am so fortunate be able to call this place home.

I’ve been interested in art, writing and psychology since I was a kid—I blame my parents—my mother is a poet, my father is an artist and worked for 30 years as a psychiatric technician at the Sonoma Developmental Center. I started volunteering in Special Education classrooms as an aide in 1996, and have worked in the Human Services field since then.

In 1998, I was given the opportunity to study Art History and photography in London. I spent a few years traveling around Europe and learning all kinds of life lessons. I decided to pursue a degree in journalism, to be able to tell stories that needed to be told. I graduated from San Francisco State University in 2006 and wrote for the Oakland Tribune and the Sonoma Index-Tribune.

I am so honored to be able to be a part of Art Explorers—when we moved to Fort Bragg in 2008; I fell in love with the program and the beautiful work that was being created there. The students’ dedication to their art is nothing short of amazing. I find that being here at Art Explorers inspires me to work harder on my own creative endeavors and injects me with optimism.

Sabine Brunner and Stella Peterson
Sabine Brunner
Co-Director / Teacher

I grew up in Germany where I studied Graphic Design. In 1996 I moved to California and began working with clay and working as a ceramics teacher in different schools in the Bay Area.

Eventually I ended up living on the beautiful Mendocino coast in 2016. It is dream of mine to be able to live so close to the ocean. After moving to Mendocino, I worked as an Artist in Residence for Art Explorers. The Artist in Residence led to me being a weekly guest artist at Art Explorers.

I really enjoy working with all the different artists and I am thrilled to be part of Art Explorers with Maria as Co-Director.

Solange Roberdeau and Frank Van Curen
Solange Roberdeau
Teacher

I am an artist and art educator based in Elk, on the south coast of Mendocino County. Born in Albion, I left the county after high school and lived on the east coast where I received a BFA in Printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design and later an MFA in Studio Art from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

I began teaching freelance art classes while living in Brooklyn, a profession which continued after moving back to Mendocino County in 2012. I love sharing my belief in the power and importance of creative thinking, and often incorporate techniques from my studio practice into workshops. Finding ways to democratize “art making” by making processes more approachable, accessible and welcoming is something I greatly enjoy and believe in.

I have admired Art Explorers for years and first worked with the organization as a visiting artist in 2021, leading weeklong workshops in gilding (metal leaf application) and suminagashi (Japanese ink marbling). In 2022, I returned to work with the artists on a month-long repeat pattern screen printing project, which led to working more regularly with the organization.

As a person who depends on a consistent creative practice, I am thrilled to be working with a community focused organization that provides this space for others. It has been so much fun to get to know the artists, staff and volunteers that make Art Explorers what it is and I am honored to be a part of the team!

www.solange-roberdeau.com

Board Members

Select a board member and read their bio below.
Tracy Daly, President
Kristin Otwell
Julie Connolly
Adele Horne, Secretary
Sandy Weaver, Treasurer
Erin Brazill, Vice President

Tracy Daly brings a broad range of business experience garnered from a career in product development, management and merchandising for apparel and accessories brands. Having worked with artists and designers professionally during her career, Tracy has an appreciation for creative processes and an affinity for art of all kinds. Tracy’s experience volunteering with differently-abled people and her enthusiasm to be a helper in our community have come together to serve the Art Explorers program.