DRIVING TOWARD GREATER ACCESSIBILITY
If the gathering felt a good bit like a family reunion, there was good reason. For more than 25 years, Margaret Bodell, now on the staff of the Connecticut Office of the Arts, Department of Economic and Community Development, has made it her personal mission to support artists on the autism spectrum.
Bodell founded one of the first galleries in New York to feature these New England-based, so-called “outsider” artists and help gain recognition for their cultural contributions.
Now, a number of them are clearly on the radar, and in December, some were featured in an exhibition that opened in Hartford — co-sponsored by UArts and the Connecticut Office of the Arts — as part of a statewide initiative to reach out to this largely undeserved population.
The show at The Gallery at Constitution Plaza, which will run through March 27, also has been curated to focus on developing artists who are facing a variety of other barriers. This grouping is far-reaching, from new arrivals within the state who don’t speak English to people with psychiatric disabilities; it includes outreach to veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, and calls for further development of creative opportunities for people who are elderly, or hearing- or vision-impaired, Bodell said.
The potential of how much this currently underserved group might accomplish is on dramatic display, whether in Kerri Quirk’s vibrant primitives in acrylic or Vito Bonanno’s vigorous abstractions. Quirk, who has a gallery in Willimantic, Conn., is deaf and autistic; she has exhibited in Chicago and New York and is being featured at the Metro Show in New York this month.
Bonanno is autistic and was fresh from a business trip in his Artmobile that took him to downtown Miami, where five of his works were included in an exhibition at the McCormick Place Art Gallery. With his mother behind the wheel, the two were also on an advocacy mission: Art Basel Miami Beach was in full swing and the two were pushing for greater accessibility to advanced art education for people with autism.
Bonanno is one of luckier artists with this disability, as he has benefitted from private art instruction as well as a wide array of programs that have led to greater self-sufficiency, his mother, Cindy Watson, said. But not everyone can afford the private tuition. “It’s time for the barriers to come down,” she added.
A section of the gallery showcases the colorful weaving being produced at the Hartford Artisans Weaving Center, a place that serves people with low or no vision as well as people over 55 years of age. Mentors teaching in the program hail from some of the world’s most prestigious textile programs, and the products are a fusion of tradition and innovation.
In the large gallery room are the works of the newly appointed UArts mentors — who include Ruben Marroquin, Liz Squillace, Michael Madore
and JAHANE, while a documentary in an adjoining room captures the work of Roman Baca, former United States Marine and artistic director of Exit 12 Dance Company. Baca’s choreography, a mix of art and dance therapy, recently included children’s dance workshops in the regions in Iraq where he had fought.
“We call this ‘creative workforce development,’” Bodell said, “I’m interested in using artists who need work to help generate jobs.”
In a final room, hand-dyed scarves, jewelry, candles, ornaments and a variety of other crafts generated in workshop settings throughout Connecticut were for sale. Eight institutions within the state participated in the exhibition.