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This New Arts Collective in Mira Mesa Is Carving Out a Space for Neurodivergent Creators

Social Dropouts Collective is putting a modern spin on maker spaces
Stacy Keck

By Christine Pasalo

Social Dropouts Collective - main

Social Dropouts Collective in Carmel Valley have created an accessible maker space for neurodivergent people

Stacy Keck

There’s a noticeable lack of loud music. No bright posters or stark images adorning every wall. Not even a single inspirational quote in cursive.Social Dropouts Collective has a much different vibe from your standard maker space. Here in a converted garage in Carmel Valley, cofounders Uyen “Wednesday” Tran, Koy Suntichotinun, and Tommy (last name withheld by request) are crafting a creative space more reflective of their own artistic process. It’s still fun, still funky. But it’s also an environment mindful of people who learn and perform best in the absence of the hyperstimulation that’s become de rigueur for art workshops.People like them.“The goal of Social Dropouts is to create an accessible maker space for neurodivergent people,” says Tran, an illustrator and designer who is diagnosed with severe ADHD and bipolar disorder. “This world was made for neurotypical people. It’s up to us to create a world that serves us.”

Social Dropouts Collective - Garage

Social Dropouts Collective – Garage

Stacy Keck

The group launched their business in November 2021, after more “typical” creative-work environments—which overwhelmingly emphasized high-energy social interaction—left them feeling burnt out.“Dropping out is a choice,” says Suntichotinun. “We’re dropping out of what’s popular and building our own space.”Tran says it’s as simple as creating a space that’s quiet and resourceful for creatives, where tools, equipment, and support are easily accessible. When possible, artists are invited to one-on-one training for equipment they might otherwise see only at a design manufacturer—like a heat pressing machine to set original designs on T-shirts and shoes, or a laser cutter to create keychains or earrings.
The group also lifts the veil from the creation of their art and products, documenting the process from concept to execution. Tran makes colorful stationery and jewelry. Suntichotinun is known for stylized designs on hats and shirts. Tommy drives the business end, producing quick video clips and sharing the stories on their social media accounts.Tran and Suntichotinun joined our video call from outside Market on 8th, the National City food hall, where they were working on a mural for a new location of Weapon Ramen—a restaurant from top local chef Phillip Esteban. It’s another atypical day for the collective, which is raising revenue for their maker space by taking on commissions. They also sell identity-affirming merchandise online and in person by popping up at local San Diego spaces like Loose Lab in Grant Hill.Art has been important for finding and maintaining mental wellness for each of the founders, particularly for Tran, who didn’t originally set out to become a creative despite being drawn to artmaking as a child. Before graduating from UC San Diego in 2018 with a degree in economics, Tran took an internship in Washington, DC, with former Congresswoman Susan Davis’s team.“I was collecting the experience for my résumé and I felt really empty inside,” she says. “I didn’t feel like I was being genuinely me.”

Social Dropouts Collective - stickers

Social Dropouts Collective – stickers

Stacy Keck

It was her budding long-distance relationship with Suntichotinun that pulled Tran out of her creative fog. “I embroidered flowers and sent them to him, he made me drawings—it was back-and-forth snail mail,” she explains. “I would read books and draw in them and annotate them and send them to him, and he would read them. I felt like myself again.”New love becomes new art becomes a new company. Now, with Tommy onboard, Social Dropouts Collective is mapping out a business plan based on the thrill of making, creating access to art careers, and teaching creatives in a different, less-stimmed way. As the collective becomes more financially stable, they hope to incorporate paid mentorships and collaborations.“At the end of the day, it takes one special core memory to get someone to embark on their journey of being their most authentic self,” says Tran. “We want to provide that.”

Social Dropouts Collective - sewing machine

Social Dropouts Collective – sewing machine

Stacy Keck

Even if they can change the frame of reference for just one neurodivergent artist—to know that spaces empathetic to how they work and learn can exist—it’s the first step in changing the field, so creatives can be supported not only for their final product, but for the often slow, bumpy, and error-riddled process it takes to get there, too.

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