'Islands in the Stream' promotes autism and art

May 23, 2010 10:59:01 AM PDT
Society is still trying to understand the minds of people with autism. Many have the ability to express themselves; sometimes it's artistically, which explains how they perceived the world around them.

Project Onward, an artists' studio for people with disabilities, is sponsored by Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs. Rob Lentz is the program director.

"The first criteria that we look at is the quality of the artwork that the artist is producing. After that it's a question of how committed they are to art making, how much they feel like it's something that is important to them that they'll do for the rest of their lives," said Lentz.

Since April, Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs has been promoting autism and art with an exhibit called "Islands in the Stream".

"Islands in the Stream", which refers to the concepts of your islands of ability, which is a lot of people with autism who have disabilities that prevent them from interacting socially, sort of prevent them from having a life that's more mainstream," said Lentz. "And, because a lot of autistic people think in visual terms, the artwork that they create is really interesting and I think has a lot to say about autism that is difficult to get across in words."

The exhibit showcases the artwork from nine artists with autism who are part of Project Onward.

David Holt is 24 years old.

"I have been doing it for five years and I'm doing everything of it. I do everything death pictures. Like Isaac Hayes from two years ago, same with Bernie Mac, then last year Les Paul. Michael Jackson, John Hughes, all the people who died in the last year," said Holt.

When Holt learned his artwork was going to be part of this exhibit he was shocked.

"I was gone nuts, and I also do self-portraits from out of the state, around the country. I did a portrait all the way from Japan," Holt said.

"One of the things that we wanted to get across with the exhibit is that autism really is a spectrum disorder, and that one artist is very different from the other, and that autism is not a blanket term, it's a very diverse range of functioning and abilities, and the artwork expresses that as well," said Lentz.

All artwork is for sale. The "Islands in the Stream: Autism and Art Exhibit" will be at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., until May 30.

For more information go to www.projectonward.org.


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