Every couple of years, the Art Gallery of Algoma creates art projects for the community in terms of the educational programming that is being offered. This year they have chosen to showcase the personal styles of children and youth, ages 4-18, who fall on the spectrum. This is an opportunity for these individuals to shine and to share their creative voices with the community as a whole.
Generously sponsored by Autism Ontario as well as many community partners, Spectrum: A Visual Language is filled with an impressive range of work that celebrates the creativity, talent, humour and imagination of children and youth in our community with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which is often identified as ASD.
The exhibition was inspired by the need to accommodate children and youth with ASD who love art and who were not finding success in art programming that already existed in the community.
“The reason that we chose to focus on this area for children and youth is because we are encountering more and more children with ASD in our children’s program schedule, who find it very challenging to work in the studio space that we offer,” said Laurie Carlyle, the Art Gallery of Algoma’s Art Education Director. “We have many children who are registering for classes, especially in the summer months, who come and participate for one or two days and they have a hard time functioning in the space with the dynamic that exists, which results in more and more children cancelling out of classes.”
Laurie explains that she has kept in touch with many of these children and their families, as she has built many relationships in situations like these where children are experiencing challenges. She noted that she has maintained a list of these children and youth, in hopes that the Art Gallery could create some more comfortable environments in the future where they can come work and have fun.
The process of creating the art and putting the exhibition together was a very quick one. It started with finding out that there was one month where there was an empty gap in the gallery, which then led to putting calls through to Autism Ontario, the Algoma Autism Foundation and to some teachers as well who identified children and young adults who might enjoy coming to workshops in a more controlled environment. These workshops held small numbers, they were quiet and very limited when it came to structured lesson plans, as these individuals were encouraged to use the materials that were there and to just let their creativity flow.
In terms of the response from the public about the exhibition, it has been quite a tremendous one. Laurie told saultonline.com that the students who participated and the exhibition as a whole have been very rewarding, inspiring and motivating to her. “What’s been communicated back to the Art Gallery is that they will do more, if we offer more of this; they will come back.”
She shares that it was rewarding to know that the youth were benefiting from the gallery exhibitions and knowing that they want to come back. “Professionals in the community have responded very well and they are very appreciative of what we have offered; they want to work with us to provide further education.”
In regards to the opening reception on October 20th Laurie, stated “It was fabulous! We had about 200 people, over the course of an hour and a half to two hours. Normally our artists receptions are 7-9pm and for this group because there were a lot of younger children, as young as 4 years old, we scheduled it at 6pm and people were here at 5:30pm! We had lots of fresh snacks for people and whole families came; grand-parents, aunts and uncles, teachers came from as far as Deborah to see their student’s work and to support them. It was really fun!”
All in all, the exhibition is a great opportunity for people in the community to talk and learn about autism. “It’s an opportunity for people to ask questions about it as it’s in most classrooms, schools and work environments in the city; we have a very high rate of autism in our community,” says Laurie when asked about the impact that the exhibition is making on the members of our community. “The exhibition is only on for a month, but I think it’s giving the opportunity for people to have a discussion. So, there’s definitely some education as a result.”