The 22nd floor gallery at the Florida Capitol is the setting for the exhibition, “The Way I Speak: Artists and Autism” curated by Susan Baldino of VSA Florida and Allison Leatzow of the Florida State University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (FSU CARD).
The fourth in a series of projects by the two collaborators, it enables creative voices from the autism community to be heard and sustained. The exhibition consists of works from across the State of Florida in a variety of media.
Though a range of techniques is represented, it is clear that art unifies the artists by offering a vehicle to communicate where social interaction may falter.
The theme of the show is inspired by the prolific oeuvre of Madison Hongyee, a young Walton County art student who struggles to verbalize feelings but can eloquently express her ideas with markers and paper. Madison’s repeated renditions of television characters is the primary “Way She Speaks.” She has been featured in four exhibitions and was presented a VSA Florida Student Award in 2016.
Madison’s mother reports, “Art is Madison’s way of expressing her thoughts. Instead of chit chat and conversation, she draws. Being able to create art must be so fulfilling to a child that has little control over her own life. Her world of imagination, creation, and expression gives Madison the comfort she needs to cope with the grip of Autism.”
Exhibition organizers advocate for inclusion for artists like Madison.
“Art has a way of leveling the playing field for all people,” says Baldino. “Through research on museums, learning, and autism, I have seen obstacles disappear for those who are socially included. I hope this exhibition opens people’s eyes to the tremendous potential of every human being, including those who may fight to make their ideas known because of the communicative challenges of autism.”
Leatzow, an autism consultant remarks, “I want others to know that individuals with autism give our lives flavor and spice and are assets to our world. They give us color when things are black and white, they give us detail and the beauty of minutiae when we only see the end product. In essence, they give us a different lens to view the world.”
A special thematic area at the exhibition includes the large-scale community artworks, Together and Able and Together and Able II completed by more than a thousand people who contributed their words and phrases about difference, inclusion, and human rights.
VSA Florida and FSU CARD are working with the Division of Cultural Affairs, Florida Department of State to present “The Way I Speak.” The exhibition opens May 2 and continues through July 31 at the 22nd floor gallery of the Florida Capitol.