Art as Advocacy: The Art of Autism at the California Museum in Sacramento this Summer

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“Often a person with a disability is not even seen as a person except as a recipient, a beneficiary, a consumer, a client, a caseload number, or someone who simply and constantly needs help … not a person who needs and wants a life like anyone else – love, happiness, and joy…” Marty Omoto

By Debra Muzikar

This summer the extraordinary art work of Californians with developmental disabilities, many on the autism spectrum, will be on display in the Maria Shriver Room at the California Museum in Sacramento. The exhibit, titled TBD – To Be Developmentally Disabled – Arts and Advocacy, is the first of its kind at the museum. In a unique collaboration, Sacramento service provider Choices Person Centered Services has partnered with the California Disability Community Action Network (CDCAN), Claraty Art Studio and the Art of Autism to curate the exhibit.

The Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act

It’s fitting that the exhibit, centered in Sacramento, coincides with the 50th anniversary year celebrations marking the establishment of the community-based system of services for people with developmental disabilities in California that resulted in the landmark 1969 legislation now known as the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act (AB 846). This civil rights legislation states that people with developmental disabilities and their families have a right to receive the services and supports they need to live a more independent and normal life.

Curation Process

As part of the curation process, the unique story of each artist was shared. These stories highlighted the diversity of the population. The artists took pride in their ethnicity, religion, interests, family and friends which they conveyed through their art. Other pieces were darker depicting run-ins with law enforcement, the isolation of institutionalization, racism, and the unmanifested desire to have physical relationships.

Seeing Beyond the Label

The organizers hope to challenge assumptions about disabilities.

“Often a person with a disability is not even seen as a person except as a recipient, a beneficiary, a consumer, a client, a caseload number, or someone who simply and constantly needs help … not a person who needs and wants a life like anyone else – love, happiness, and joy…” says CDCAN representative Marty Omoto.

Marty says a goal of the exhibit is “ to open some of the doors and windows in a person’s life and connect that to the person viewing the art work … to invoke some thought or emotion in that cause the person to smile, to relate, to ponder, to be sad or reflective. ..If the art is compelling enough for the viewer, it can help challenge previous assumptions that a person may have had about a person with disabilities.”

Consumer by Gabby Ledesma courtesy of Claraty Arts

Gaby Ledesma “Consumer”

The artwork of Gaby Ledesma, featured in “Consumer,” is inspired by Andy Warhol’s 1962 Campbell Soup Can piece. “’Consumer’ examines the language that we use to describe, categorize, label, and measure people with developmental disabilities using familiar imagery and common language, aspiring to combine them in such a way as to cause viewers to consider or reconsider each element – each can, each label, and their own experience with these words in a new light.” (Art work courtesy of Claraty Arts).

Art as Advocacy

Marty speaks of art being no different than attending a rally, writing a letter or article on disability right, or performing music.

“Art is advocacy. Not that it can be….not that it could be. But that it is. Not every artist and not every art piece rises to the point of being compelling in that way – just as not every person who speaks at every public hearing or rally or every writer and every article, poem, essay or letter they write, necessarily rises to that point. But it does when the artist and the art piece are authentic in expressing their point of view, a voice and experience.”

Governor Brown

On display is a portrait of Governor Brown painted by Jeremy Sicile-Kira, a non-speaking artist who communicates through his art and a letterboard. Jeremy sees people’s auras or colors, paints them in portraits and then interprets them in words.

Jeremy Sicile-Kira Our Great Governor Brown

The Colors of a Great Leader, Our Governor Brown

By Jeremy Sicile-Kira

“Truly greatly I had a dream about Governor Brown. Greatly there was blue surrounding him for his knowledge for the state and the needs of its people. Truly Governor Brown will do his best with what he can to make California a better state. His stance on how he will defend everybody, every man, every woman, and every child is what is important in a governor. Greatly there is lots of purple for his leadership roles. Red is present for the love that Governor Brown has put towards the lives that matter. Green is truly present for the calmness Governor Brown feels when he makes a significant difference. Just kindly magenta is present for the love of his wife, Anne. They work well together and he feels more comfortable with her by his side shown by calm yellow-green. Greatly white is present for the great chance at a brighter future for California and our country. Nicely there is orange for the happiness he felt when he got another chance to be Governor and for all his accomplishments now and to come. Frankly there is gold and silver shining down from their lost pet dog, Sutter.”

The curation team hopes Governor Brown and other legislators will attend the opening reception.

Standards of Excellence

A hope for the exhibit is that people viewing it will realize that artists with disabilities can reach the standards of quality and excellence applied to anyone else. “ When a person is unchained from stereotypes and old assumptions – or physically unchained from an institution – anything is possible,” Marty says.

Participating California artists (who were curated by the Art of Autism) are Joel Anderson, Maria Arroyo, Mia Mantegna, Kevin Mount, Syance Wilson, Ali Shahrouzi, Kristina Woodruff, Max LaZebnik, Jeremy Sicile-Kira, Jeff Working, Jason Cantu and Kevin Hosseini. Many other artists were curated from other organizations.

The exhibit will run from June 15 – September 17. A reception is scheduled for June 20. For more information about the exhibits and the artists visit these websites:

California Museum – www.californiamuseum.org/art-advocacy
Choices Person Centered Services – www.cts-choices.org
California Disability Community Action Network – www.cdcan.us
The Art of Autism – www.artautism.com
Claraty Arts – www.claratyarts.com

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