It is easy to miss the Exceptional Children’s Foundation Art Center (ECF) building on Gaffey Street. ECF has been at this location for over ten years and in San Pedro since 2004. A new colorful mural is visible from the back of the building and can also be seen from the Vons parking lot looking north. The nonprofit agency, founded in 1968, provides a creative art space for adults 18 and over who have developmental disabilities.
Children with disabilities often grow up going to schools where their classes are tucked away in bungalows or away from other students. At ECF, another world exists where the individuals they serve are artists before anything else — any disability is secondary and creative talent shines bright. The program and studio are vibrant and alive. It is an ample, open space with a gallery that feels like it should be located somewhere in a hip downtown area.
Each artist at ECF has their own workspace in an open studio. Artists decide what medium they would like to pursue, which includes pottery, printmaking, fiber, digital art, painting, and more. The artists are encouraged to lead and make decisions about their art careers, while ECF provides any support the individuals may need to make that happen. Art instructors are provided and work one-on-one with artists, guiding them as they work towards an art career.
While ECF is not open to the public, it hosts occasional public art sales featuring various artists. Proceeds from the sales go equally to the artist and back into the program 50/50. The artists are taught how to curate their shows and sell their artwork in their attached gallery, local exhibits, and online. This helps to develop another layer of skills and independence for the artists. There is no cost for the artist to be part of the program, which includes all art supplies. The center is a creative outlet for a community of artists and a place where friendships naturally evolve.
“Many of the artists couldn’t be employed traditionally, and there were not a lot of options or programs for adults with disabilities after high school,” states Adriane Mota, program director, ECF Art Centers. “Our artists have a space to be creative, and their confidence is boosted as they sell art, just like other artists.”
Artist Victor Prieto has been drawing since he was three years old. “During COVID, the program was online, so my girlfriend, who I met in kindergarten, would watch the classes with me. Now she is in the program too,” states Prieto, who specializes in Indian ink, tattoo drawing, comics, and horror.
The ECF Art Studio originally started in Los Angeles but now has grown to include five sites, including one in San Pedro. Artists attend the site closest to their home and are usually referred to ECF by Harbor Regional Center. ECF is open to artists from 8 a.m.–2:30 p.m. weekdays. ECF has other programs serving children; the art centers are just one part of their mission.
The rainbow mural on the building was designed by the artists at ECF and created in partnership with Muralism, a nonprofit agency that provides work experience to adults with autism and disabilities. Both groups worked together with neighbors to paint the mural in May.
ECF serves 45 thriving artists in San Pedro. Every detail in the center is thought out to empower the artists in a safe, caring space. In a world with so many challenges, stepping into ECF is a breath of fresh air with an upbeat and hopeful vibe. It is possibly the best-kept secret on Gaffey Street, located just a few doors down from The Omelette & Waffle Shop.
Please consider purchasing art online, donating, or being a sponsor to support ECF. For more information, visit artecf.org. spt