M.I.N.D. Institute displays artwork of those it helps

The UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute has assembled a significant collection of artwork created by children and adults with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. The 63 pieces of art — pencil drawings, watercolors and oil paintings — will be on permanent display in the institute’s new facilities, scheduled to open in April.

“Art is a beautiful form of communication and for many individuals with autism who live in utter isolation from the rest of the world, it is one of the few ways that they are able to be brilliantly expressive,” said Robert Hendren, executive director of the Institute.

Autism is a complex and severe developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate, form relationships with others and respond appropriately to the environment. Those affected may avoid making eye contact and lack the ability to read faces for signs of emotion or other cues.  Children typically do not engage in social play or games with their peers.

Spurred by one of the institute’s founding parents, Chuck Gardner, the institute launched a nationwide competition for artwork from children, adolescents and adults.

“Art gives us a rare look into how autistic children and adults experience the world,” said Gardner, whose son, Chas, is autistic. “One of my favorite pieces is Reed Feshbach’s depiction of getting a haircut, something that used to be traumatic for my son. Two of the prominent details in the piece, a buzzing bee and an exit sign, remind me of how much Chas wanted to escape from the situation.”

Sacramento area artists Karen Fenley and Wayne Thiebaud, in addition to Gardner and UC Davis Health System art adviser Susan Willoughby, judged the entries. Artwork from 36 artists, ranging in ages from 5 years old to 86 years old, was selected.  The majority of the artists have autism or Asperger’s syndrome, a higher functioning form of autism.  A few of the artists have learning disabilities, including severe dyslexia or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.  A few of the artists have been identified as being in the rare category of autistic savants, where they demonstrate exceptional skill and understanding in a particular area — in this case, art. (Views of the artwork are available at http://news.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/images/mind/artists.html.)

“In judging the works for the M.I.N.D. Institute, I found it rewarding to be presented with a variety of capable works done in several media,” said artist Thiebaud. “The works varied from pieces that reflected current trends and styles as well as those which made reference to an art-historical past. They also ranged from finely detailed and vibrantly expressive work to painterly landscapes and ‘primitive’ ones reminiscent of folk art.”

The framed artwork will be displayed throughout the M.I.N.D. Institute’s two new buildings. It will be on view April 12 at the institute’s grand opening when the public will be able to tour the new facilities. Opening ceremonies and festivities will begin at 10 a.m. following the third annual Run/Walk for Hope benefit.

UC Davis broke ground on the new facilities in September 2001. The complex sits on a 3.5-acre parcel at UC Davis Medical Center, located at 2825 50th St. The main building is a 72,338-square-foot space that houses an outpatient clinic, including exam rooms and clinician offices; a 9,695-square-foot resource center and library; food services and the main entryand reception area. The second building is a 27,270-square-foot laboratory facility that will provide research laboratory space and offices for research faculty and staff.

The M.I.N.D. Institute was founded in 1998 as an interdisciplinary organization of parents, community leaders, researchers, clinicians and volunteers to study and treat autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.  More information about the institute is available on the Web at http://www.mindinstitute.org/. Renderings of the new building are available at http://news.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/art.html.

Martha Alcott is a UC Davis Health System public information representative.

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Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932, abagronis@ucdavis.edu

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