Training the Talents of Artists with Autism

Last semester I attended an art exhibit in the Schimmel Lobby and a program in the theater devoted to young artists on the autism spectrum. The evening was co-sponsored by our OASIS program and the Brooklyn nonprofit Strokes of Genius, which trains and promotes artists with autism.

It was an inspiring evening. The principal speaker was Temple Grandin, PhD. She also spoke at our Convocation in 2010. Dr. Grandin has autism and her work, books and other achievements are wonderful examples of the power of the human spirit. Listening to her talk about the way in which people with autism perceive the world, we quickly see that helping artists with autism is not so much about overcoming disabilities as it is about turning differences into strengths. The power to do that is something that we all share.

The strengths of these young artists were apparent in the works exhibited in the Schimmel Lobby. Seven students in the Pace OASIS program were among the exhibitors. The artists’ strengths were also apparent in the remarks by a small group of artists who spoke about themselves and their work. One young woman explained that she had been diagnosed with autism when she was seven-years-old, that she recognized that she was different and that she was proud of her differences. Another young artist did not feel comfortable speaking to the group about his paintings, but his brother explained that the artist’s work was in the Venice Biennale, a magnet for work by the best young artists.

Training the Talents of Artists with Autism made me feel very pleased and proud of what Pace is doing in this area. The OASIS program of multifaceted support for students at Pace on the spectrum, founded by Dianne Zager, PhD and now led by Mary Riggs Cohen, PhD, is one of the best in the country. We educate and train K-12 teachers of students with autism and other disabilities; and we are a center of discussion by distinguished experts like Dr. Temple Grandin.