Craig is sharing his incredible artistic gift with the world, but he needed guidance to reach his full potential. He is supported by Jeremey Furtado, a Career Resource Specialist on Work Opportunities Unlimited (WOU)’s North Central Team, who dedicates his days to breaking down barriers to employment for people with disabilities. Jeremey shares, “When I first started working with Craig, he was hesitant to leave his apartment. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He has a passion for art, is a talented photographer, and an accomplished musician. He’s lived quite a life.”

Craig’s job experience ranges from running a media design company to herding sheep to an independent junk hauling business that was just starting to grow before his truck’s engine failed and he couldn’t afford a new one. He planned to train to operate earth-moving machinery next, preferring manual labor and fresh air to sitting in front of a computer all day. However, when that opportunity fell through, Craig found himself stuck at home without a vehicle for the first time in 30 years, unable to go on photography shoots, and feeling isolated. “I had this whole world of experience, and now I needed someone to lead me in the right direction and be a sounding board for ideas. I have plenty of self-confidence, I just don’t do the business part. Money doesn’t motivate me,” explains Craig. He wanted to volunteer in the community to meet people, so Jeremey began brainstorming for local opportunities.

“I needed to be able to trust somebody to put my career in their hands,” says Craig. At first, he was skeptical that WOU could help, but Jeremey’s background as a musician, his experience in the art world, and his steadfast nature appealed to Craig. His faith in Jeremey grew as they began meeting in person twice each week. “We normally met at a coffee shop,” says Jeremey, but on one visit, “it was a nice day. I said we should get out and enjoy the weather while we talk.” The two walked past the town’s public access station. Craig had mentioned his desire to work in radio, so Jeremey encouraged Craig to stop in, and he was offered a one-hour weekly radio show. Soon he began volunteering as a TV camera operator, as well. Now Craig is a freelance employee for the public access station. As a newer town resident, he didn’t know many people, so Craig was glad that “it kind of opened up a new little world, a new community that I hadn’t had before.”

Craig devoted himself to growing a career from his photography. He knew it would be challenging: “Artistic skill is maybe 10%, and the rest is who you know. Networking is crucial.” To help him achieve his dreams, Jeremey got creative, first asking an accomplished painter he knew to meet with Craig and share her artistic journey. Jeremey recalls, “Craig picked her brain for about half an hour, and he came out with a set of goals and steps he was going to take to make the whole thing happen.” Next Jeremey introduced him to community business development experts who informed Craig of available grants and connected him with other local artists. A painter with his own gallery mentored Craig on how best to sequence his photographs for display. He also enrolled in workshops and shared his work at a non-profit photography gallery in Vermont.

Craig was now ready for his first photography exhibition. The public access station, which regularly displayed artwork in their lobby, asked him to do his show there. Craig displayed a collection titled “Patina,” embodying his passion for abstract expression as captured in western Massachusetts rock quarries. Craig says he would return again and again to shoot the rock in different types of light at different times of the day, seeing aesthetically pleasing compositions of shape and color in the landscape: “I love seeing how things look through different perspectives and basically just capturing what already exists.” He feels his first exhibition was a success: “It gave me ideas, like a roadmap on which to base my future proposals on.”

“Everyone Craig shows his work to is really excited about it,” says Jeremey. He’s impressed that Craig has fully embraced networking to make more connections in the art world and line up potential galleries for future exhibitions. At a recent meet-and-greet event, Jeremey shares, “Craig was nervous, but once he got in there, he moved around the room, talked to everyone, and exchanged cards with multiple people. There I was a fly on the wall, just listening to the quality conversations he was having with other artists and patrons.” He also was wowed that Craig willingly called the local newspaper himself to set up an interview for press. If Craig receives the grant he has applied for, he plans to remedy his lack of transportation – perhaps purchasing a motorcycle – so he can get back to shooting. As he awaits that, however, Craig luckily has a large archive of past work to continue working on, and with Jeremey’s assistance, he has secured his next exhibition through November 2024! He plans to show photographs from his time on a sheep farm, incorporating a multimedia component with songs he recorded then in order to “really capture my state of mind at the time.”

WOU Director Lynsay Radzewicz says she is “blown away” but Craig’s growth. “The relationship Jeremey cultivated with Craig has given him the opportunity to believe in himself and take a chance.” Craig is extremely appreciative for the support, sharing, “Jeremey has really been a godsend. Without him I wouldn’t have the radio show, I wouldn’t have the community at the station that I’ve had. I lucked out with him, and I am grateful.” He notes that it may be extra challenging to support an entrepreneur like himself, but “Jeremey has been doing his best to figure out how to accommodate someone like me…I’m hoping this will help other people, too. Not everybody is your traditional ‘9 to 5’ type of person, especially when they’re on the autism spectrum. There are a lot of things that I’m good at, and there are a lot of things that I’m just not. I’m trying to focus on my best attributes. Photography is one of them.” Viewing Craig’s work, it is easy to agree. WOU wishes Craig a successful photography career!

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See more of Craig’s photography at his website, www.csolomonholmes.com.