Growing up with cerebral palsy, Jim Weidert’s son, Henry, enjoyed plenty of support and programming in his school district in Kimberly.
Once Henry, now 22, graduated, however, Weidert and his wife, Linda, encountered a situation faced by many parents of children with disabilities. That safety net of services and support disappears, and parents must figure out their children’s place in a larger landscape.
Weidert says many parents struggle to figure out how their child will become professionally active, contribute to a capitalist society and gain independence. “Unfortunately, that landscape is really unimaginative,” Weidert says.
While society has progressed from a time when many adults with disabilities were institutionalized, Weidert says many jobs available today offer people with disabilities only menial tasks or piece work — for example, cleaning bathrooms or stocking shelves.
A desire to help his son and others like him became the inspiration for a business Weidert says captures an untapped market. He’s taken his experience as a marketer, product developer, and artist and turned it to developing IntoWishin’ Arts, an art publishing company designed to support adults with disabilities.
Weidert first began to contemplate the idea of such an endeavor after Henry, who Weidert describes as high functioning, active and social, won a statewide art competition for an organization called Very Special Arts in Madison. He credits Henry’s art teacher, Micki Wise of Kimberly High School, with supporting and championing his son.
“It was really sort of an eye-opening experience that potentially his creative possibilities were something we could explore as a serious venture later on in his adult life,” Weidert says.
He devised a business that strives to give people with disabilities an opportunity to practice and explore their creative abilities and increase their independence. He plans to hold classroom workshops with themes where people can gather and curate original art to turn into sellable products.
IntoWishin’ will then market those products — such as greeting cards, pillows, T-shirts and wall hangings — in vertically oriented online stores. Artists will retain ownership of their works and earn royalties on the product, thus providing them a supplemental source of income.
Weidert has partnered with the Richeson School of Art & Gallery in Kimberly to run the workshops, which he plans to hold about six times a year. He’ll tap artists to serve as paid mentors and presenters. Participants will receive a prompt, such as “what love looks like” for Valentine’s Day, and create work based on that.
Any adult who’s struggling with cognitive, emotional or physical disabilities could participate. That could include, for example, people with autism, quadriplegics, and disabled veterans.
While many people are governed by fear when it comes to expressing themselves artistically or speaking out, Weidert says those with disabilities often are “more advanced on the spectrum when it comes to fearlessness.”
“They lack inhibition to create things or say things, or their wisdom comes out spontaneously,” he says. “Their general resource and their creative resource is really their intuitive capabilities.”
As he began to develop the idea, Weidert initially conceived of the company as a nonprofit. As he talked to people working in that sector, however, they persuaded him that he should instead set up a for-profit business that supports nonprofits.
That led him to pursue becoming a B Corporation, a for-profit company certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. They’ve grown in popularity. According to B Lab, in 2009 just 205 B Corps existed. Today, that’s ballooned to almost 2,300.
“That’s a nice middle ground,” Weidert says. “A B Corporation is a new type of social, innovative corporation whose mission is not just to line the pockets of the shareholder but also to benefit the entire community.”
The State of Wisconsin doesn’t recognize B Corps, but Weidert says he’ll still pursue the designation, which will allow him to put the B Corp stamp on his products. The company will donate 10 percent of profits to nonprofit partners, such as Very Special Arts, to foster more art creation.
Kathie Wagner, president of Very Special Arts, says in working with IntoWishin’ Arts, she sees a mutually beneficial opportunity. Many people with disabilities, she says, simply want opportunities to create art — whether visual or performance.
“Both of our organizations are in the business of trying to say yes,” Wagner says of Weidert’s venture.
To fund the project, Weidert — whose resume includes launching a nationally successful magazine with his brother, Joe, of the Weidert Group as well as designing products for Fortune 500 companies — has launched an Indiegogo campaign through its crowdfunding site designed to help create sustainable businesses.
Through the campaign, called “Possabilitees,” people will be able to purchase T-shirts, caps, and beanies designed by IntoWishin’ artists. Crowdfunding will take place through the end of the year and workshops would begin in 2018.
Weidert, who recently presented about the business at Launch Wisconsin, has grand visions for the company. Eventually, he’d like to see the designs in a national retailer such as Target or Goodwill, all the while helping adults with disabilities.
“There are millions of them struggling to gain independence and make a living, and I happen to know they can contribute to the creative welfare of the country.”