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FRIDAY, JUNE 29, 2012

May 10, 2012 (CHICAGO) (WLS) -- Ten years ago, a Chicago not-for-profit organization created a ''best of show'' art exhibit featuring the work of artists who are blind.


These artists are solely judged on their talent, not disability.

Passionate Focus is a yearly event that is sponsored by the Guild for the Blind. It is an opportunity to promote the unique artistic vision of artists who are blind.

More than 150 different pieces were submitted for this year's Passionate Focus. Forty pieces were selected from 16 artists by a panel of judges.

David Tabak is the executive director of the Guild for the Blind.

"In order to enter this contest you must be legally blind, but they are judged by a professional jury who does not know what their visual impairment is," said Tabak. "And all we say to them is, you need to judge it like you would judge no one else, and we're very strict about that."

Three of artist's Yvonne Shortt pieces were selected. They are made out of paper.

"I would just get draft paper and paint on it," said Shortt. "I am a mathematician by trade, so I love the way paper bends and folds, and what really excited me about working with paper is that it also has texture, and with paint you can give it even more texture. So people, regardless if they can't see or if they can see, they can still have a feeling when they touch my piece, and that's really exciting."

Shortt has been visually impaired all her life.

"I have something called retinitis pigmentosa, which means that I'm slowly losing my vision, my peripheral vision first and then my central vision comes later," said Shortt.

Artist Barbara Romain also had three pieces selected. She is a lifelong artist.

"My vision loss happened after I'd been trained," said Romain. "I have a form of retinal degenerative disease and it's called retinitis pigmentosa.

"It has changed the way I do my work. I used to paint very detailed oil painting and figurative, and now I work in much more abstract way. I used a lot of test in my work. It's also colorful, and I used a lot of large big gestures, because I can see bright color. It's harder for me to see more subtle things."

All of the art work is for sale. A percentage goes to the artist and some goes to the organization.

Passionate Focus's exhibit will be showcase at the Illinois College of Optometry until May 31.

"When I look at this art," Tabak said, "I'm just like, 'Wow, that's such a testament to the human spirit."

The Illinois College of Optometry is located at 3241 S. Michigan Ave.

For more information about the organization and exhibit go


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