There's a certain electricity that emanates from the work of individuals that are channeling all their pent-up creative expression into a work of art. This is even more pronounced, it seems, in artists who are challenged with physical or mental disabilities. Once their ideas and visions are released and given a means of expression, incredible stories are created and told in many different mediums.

With a passion to introduce the public to the innovative concepts and artwork of this unique community, Janet Moore and Gerryann Olson combined their skills and knowledge to curate a compelling new exhibit, "Undercover Genius: The Creative Lives of Artists with Disabilities," which opens Friday, July 12 at the Petaluma Arts Center and runs through Sept. 15.

The show features the works of artists with disabilities who attend creative programs at a number of Bay Area centers, including: Petaluma studios Alchemia and The Open Studio at Old Adobe Developmental Services (OADS), Cedars of Marin in Ross, the NIAD Art Center in Richmond, Creative Growth in Oakland, Creativity Explored in San Francisco and Becoming Independent in Santa Rosa, as well as several solo artists.

"We wanted to celebrate the artists and also the art centers that offer the resources and services which allow them to discover their creativity and give them the confidence to have it flourish," explains co-curator Janet Moore. Moore, an artist herself with a masters degree in fine art, has taught for 15 years at Cedars of Marin and the NIAD Art Center in Richmond.

Gerryann (Geri) Olson, Ph.D., is a professor and chair of the department of psychology at Sonoma State University, and serves on the board of the Petaluma Arts Center. Both have extensive knowledge of the art programs and the artists represented.

A wide range of visual mediums is represented and most pieces are available for purchase, according to Olson.

"We chose a spectrum of work," said Olson, "from paintings and drawings to textile and fiber arts, ceramics and mixed media, digital photography and 'altered books.' Some are from well-known artists and others are up-and-coming."

While the art produced by people with disabilities has been given many names, such as "Outsider Art" or "Art Brut" (raw art), the trend is to move away from such limiting terms.

"We think of art as a profession," said Moore. "And we encourage our artists to think of themselves that way."

Olson observes that, "It's so exciting to see someone pursue the thing that brings them joy and to have them recognized by their peers and by collectors."

In addition to the art exhibit, the Petaluma Arts Center will present opportunities for the public to participate in a variety of activities led by artists with disabilities. Docent tours are available for groups. To view the full schedule of events, visit or call 762-5600.

An opening reception will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, July 13.

(Contact Dyann Espinosa at