By Debra Muzikar
At age 20 and mostly non-verbal, Grace Goad is a successful artist.
Her mom, Leisa Hammett, credits Grace’s success to three things – seeing her talent, knowing how to market it, and finding artists, teachers, and therapists to mentor Grace.
Leisa and Grace’s journey hasn’t been a cakewalk. An only child, Grace was diagnosed with autism at age 3. Her family enrolled her in a host of early-childhood interventions including speech therapy, occupational therapy, and a public inclusion preschool program.
After a year of these “grueling and rigorous” interventions, Leisa asked herself: “Is this all there is?”
Leisa felt the interventions limited Grace’s experiences of typical childhood joys—dance, art and music. She began a labor-intensive search for dance, movement, music and art therapists.
What the family discovered was amazing. Grace has perfect pitch and perfect rhythm. She demonstrated a keen sense of color and composition.
Normally hyperactive, Grace would become what her mom calls “Zen-like,” while creating beautiful pieces of art. Leisa soon discovered that many individuals with disAbilities, especially those with autism, possessed creative gifts.
Grace began showing her art at age six and selling at eight. By the age of ten, the girl with moderately severe autism, severe speech/language disorder and intellectual disAbilities, began to receive local and national media coverage, including sharing the stage of “The View,” when she was 11. She continues to show and sell her work across the U.S.
Like 500,000 American youth on the autism spectrum, Grace is aging out of public school services. ”Life fully lived, to me, is not about counting the losses and the lost expectations, but rather swimming, with as much grace as can be mustered, in the joy of all of it. We can choose to do that, you know. And, in a life lived with a big, open heart, we swim in the joy of others people’s lives,” writes Leisa in her blog, www.LeisaHammett.com.
Leisa felt a strong desire to help others be successful like her daughter Grace. Recently, she began a (pending) nonprofit social enterprise, called Art Tank, to provide collaborative studio space and training for artists to create, exhibit and sell their work. The social enterprise, already underway, is selling high-end gallery-quality work nation-wide to commercial developers. Leisa has completed one project and has three in the works.
Leisa penned these words ten years ago. She sees it being played out in Grace and others’ lives:
Art is a window to the potential and beauty of individuals with disAbilities.
Art whispers, lures, and transforms the heart.
Art seduces the eyes then burrows into the heart’s core truth, transcending the societal barriers of stereotypes and labels.
Grace recently completed her first year of post high school transition programming. She has learned a complicated system of sorting books at the downtown library. She partnered with a classmate to remove staples and shred papers at a city agency, sorted charitable food pantry items and prepared them for serving. Her mom is delighted she was able to serve the food without consuming it!
Grace also recently had a solo exhibit at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center in Nashville and another local gallery. More exhibitions are scheduled before year’s end and through mid-2014. Grace recently participated in an Art of Autism exhibits at the Good Purpose Gallery in Lee, Massachusetts.