- Executive Director of Access Gallery since 1997
- 2015 Recipient of the Mayors Award for Excellence for Innovation in the Arts, Denver CO
- Developed award winning Social Enterprise – ArtWorks for teens with disabilities to access economic opportunities through the arts
- Spoke at TEDxMileHigh | Make and Believe Event 2016
- Created nationally recognized program – Granny Does Graffiti for people with Alzheimer’s and Dementia
- Pioneer in areas of collaborative art making for people with disabilities.
- 2017 Recipient of Governors Award for Leadership in the Arts
As a recognized leader in Denver’s arts community, Damon McLeese has gained a national reputation for his expertise in accessibility issues in the arts.
His approach is one of full—if not radical—inclusion that challenges individuals to acknowledge and check any personal biases toward people with disabilities.
He is engaging, dynamic and creative, especially in the way he situates art with art-creativity at the core of his message.
Damon meets people where they are and is able to effectively move folks toward becoming advocates for the most vulnerable among us. Over the course of nearly 20 years, Damon has moved VSA Colorado/Access Gallery from a simple program for kids with disabilities to an organization tackling some of the most pressing issues facing people with disabilities today.
Damon holds a Masters Degree from Regis University and has done speaking and training across the country. In 2015, he spoke about his work at TEDxMileHigh; additionally, he was the lead organizer and committee chair of Denver’s first Art and Access Symposium.
In 2014, he received the Mayor’s Award for Innovation in the Arts. From 1997 – 2016, Damon served as Adjunct Faculty at Regis University in Denver teaching in the Nonprofit Management program.
Damon’s fervent passion for making creativity easily achievable has made him one of the most influential figures in Denver. His wisdom, knowledge, and ambition leads him to create positive change in his community.
Keynote 1 – Coloring Outside the Lines – Inspiring creativity and collaboration in the workplace. Lessons on ability, disability and the human condition.
Blind people taking photographs, people with Alzheimer’s doing graffiti, and having people make artwork out of stickers, Damon McLeese has done all of this and more. Damon believes that community is built through collaboration and creativity. We are all better off when we work together yet so many aspects of our life are defined by individual results.
When we look beyond the obvious solution, when we are willing to go outside the lines, challenge our own assumptions and be open to unlocking our own creative genius can emerge. Solutions to challenges can be found inside, outside and in between the lines.
Damon teaches audiences how to reconnect with their inner creative self and how to rethink the idea that creativity is an individual pursuit. Participants learn the importance of creativity and collaboration when faced with challenges. We all have strengths and limitations. By exploring how we can support rather than compete we change the dynamic of community.
When organizations learn to collaboratively create communities rather than setting up competitive environments, amazing things can happen. Profits increase, employees are more satisfied which makes them more likely to want to stay. People stop being liabilities and start becoming assets.
Audiences learn to:
- Look beyond the obvious or safe answer
- Make stronger connections
- Reconnect with their own creativity
- Learn from those too often overlooked or unheard
Damon keeps the mood humorous, yet sincere in every presentation. Weaving stories from his personal and professional experiences to drive home the universal message of creativity and community.
Key note 2 – Lessons from the Ramp
Working with people with disabilities for more than 40 years has given Damon a rather unique perspective of ability, disability and what it truly means to be human. Starting as a counselor at a MDA as a teen to his two decades running an art center for people with disabilities, he has a unique perspective on the idea of adapting to changing circumstances. He has a inclination to challenge unquestioned assumptions by simply asking, “Who says”?
Damon no longer believes in terms like disability, disengaged or disenfranchised to describe people. People are people and we all have our own challenges and opportunities in life. By redefining how we look at and interact with our fellow humans as an opportunity rather than an obligation we can learn a lot about ourselves and the world we live in.
Damon believes we are all more than our labels, and if we can look past our own bias and connect again with our own frailty, both individually and collectively, we can learn a lot from the most unlikely teachers. Reframing the discussion to focus on talent rather than limits we all find our inner creative genius.
Audiences learn to:
- Look past difference and find connection
- Begin to look at perceived weakness as strength
- Look for opportunity in every situation
- Challenge preconceived ideas of ability
- Being open to lessons from the lesser
This was one of the most enlightening and inspiring talks and subjects. On every level, he is integrating creativity, hope, inspiration and revolutionary approaches that impact and elevate human dignity.
Damon was very engaging and passionate when he gave us his talk about access and inclusion. He helped us all pause to remember that people are people first and their disabilities come second. He also did a great job of giving us some tips of how to work with audiences with different disabilities and to increase our awareness so that we can all continuously improve to better serve everyone.
Damon is an excellent facilitator. He has a calming presence, is welcoming and engaging, and gives clear instructions. In particular, the “sticker activity” he led provided the visitors with several simple, but effective and powerful, tools to engage people of all ages and levels of development. Most importantly, he instilled the message that everyone is creative.
As a recognized leader in Denver’s arts community, Damon McLeese has gained a national reputation for his expertise in accessibility issues in the arts. His approach is one of full, if not radical, inclusion which challenges folks to acknowledge and check any personal biases toward people with disabilities. He is engaging, dynamic and creative, especially in the way he situates art and art-making at the core of his message. Damon meets people where they are and is able to respectfully and effectively move folks toward becoming advocates for the most vulnerable among us.
Damon McLeese delivered an extremely impassioned and unique perspective to facing challenges and thinking outside of the box. The 2.5 hour event that Damon facilitated at our corporate office, which included both a speech and a hands-on graffiti activity, fully invigorated our team of nearly 100 people. Damon’s expertise and authenticity brought incredible energy and new life to our entire organization. This event has consistently been praised as “the best team building activity we’ve ever done”. Damon and his team were extremely professional, full of ideas and able to flex with our needs. The graffiti pieces created by our team now hang in our offices, acting as a consistent (and vibrant!) reminder that the whole of the team is stronger than the individual. It was an absolute pleasure working with Damon, and I highly recommend organizing any event where creativity and teamwork are the focus.
In Damon’s workshops, he puts his ideas into action which enables people to seek out their creative genius within. By making interactive activities for participants, people have free range to get as artistic as possible. The results never cease to amaze.
Dots and Blobs
Damon believes community is built through creativity and that collaboration is the key to truly understanding ourselves, each other and ultimately the world we live in. Using non-traditional art materials in a non threatening environment Damon’s simple yet powerful metaphors have helped thousands of people reconnect with their creative genius. As children we innately know we are creative as adults we often forget to allow ourselves to create. We too often confuse creativity with artistry and define our creative selves by what we are not rather than what we could be.
By taking competition out of the equation, allowing room for mistakes and experimentation, we reconnect with the creative genius in all of us. Since there is no winner or loser and each person depends on another universal lessons of trust, self reliance and positive reinforcements are cultivated. Not only do we learn from the person across from us, if we allow it we learn from the people across the room. By giving people of wildly differing experiences we can learn to communicate through creativity without saying a word.
Perfect for a session at a conference or a retreat. Materials are all non toxic and not liquid – there is no chance of spillage. This workshop can be conducted with small or large groups. Time needed 1-1.5 hours.
Teamwork through Tagging
This workshop is designed for groups who are looking for a more robust experience. Community and collaboration are explored through the basics of street art and graffiti. Often a misunderstood art form Graffiti is, by its very nature, about retaining self identity in a community, corporation or group setting. Everyone wants to be remembered and to feel they matter. This workshop is a direct outgrowth of the award winning Granny Does Graffiti program developed by McLeese.
Non profit Management
Long term sobriety