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Autism Services, Inc. holds its 10th anniversary auction at Babeville

A mixed-media piece by Lisa H.
A photograph by Ricky N.

Arts Work

The connection between art and Autism Services, Inc may not be widely known, but on Friday, October 5, the organization will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its highly successful Arts Work Program with its largest ever—more than 150 artworks—annual art auction at Asbury Hall at Babeville.

Some background is in order. Autism Services is a special needs population agency that began 30 years ago to serve children and adults with autism via a year-round education program. They have greatly expanded since then to include a wide variety of residential, habitation, vocational, and cultural programs. In 2002, director Veronica Federiconi inaugurated Arts Work, an adult day program providing individuals with autism, through exposure to various art media, the opportunity to discover their own unique avenue for creative expression. As Federiconi says, the work they create is a “peek into the minds of these creative people and a glimpse into the exceptional abilities they possess. We want them to be seen as artists first who happen to have autism.”

The key to the success of this effort was the hiring of passionate and sensitive teaching artists—currently Todd Lesmeister, Dana Ranke, Raisa Aspaas, and Ani Hoover—who serve as mentors to help the participants find the medium that best suits them and guide them in using that media in depth for its maximum artistic potential.

Painter and sculptor Todd Lesmeister, who has been a teaching artist for the Arts Work Program since it began, sees his role as “part studio assistant, part collaborator and part enabler” and emphasizes that making the studio space an individualized comfort zone for each of the participants is a critical element for allowing the arts to become a source of both fulfillment and inspiration. Each of the teaching artists brings a unique skill set and talent pool to the program. Ani Hoover is an artist well known for her painting, but in recent years she has been exploring mixed media and found materials to create evocative sculptural forms. (An exceptional survey of her current work is on view at the Dolce Valvo Art Center at Niagara County Community College through October 13.)

While all of this activity at Autism Services may seem to exist out of the public eye, in reality, the fruits of the program have been frequently and widely exhibited in as many as a dozen exhibitions each year. These exhibits have taken place is an a diverse array of public venues including the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, Artspace, the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, Impact Gallery, the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, the Langston Hughes Center, and the education corridors of both the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Having the artwork that is created through the program on view in the community is deliberate and significant. It serves to raise awareness and visibility, promotes acceptance and understanding, and provides a social outlet for the participants and their families that focuses on the positivity related to creative expression.

Work by the participants has also been included in a number of members’ exhibitions at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center and CEPA Gallery. A high point of these occasions came in 2009 when one of the Arts Work artists Ricky N. was selected as the Solo Exhibition Award winner for his imaginative images of toy animals set against vibrantly colored backgrounds of expressionistic marks.

Finally, the sheer volume of the work created as a result of the program led to the establishment several years ago of the Austism Services Art Lending Collection, a program that allows businesses or organizations to have quarterly rotating exhibitions of loaned works on their premises. The artworks are accompanied by bios of the artists and staff is available to assist with the selection and installation. The Arts Work Program has empowered individuals with autism to discover new ways to create and depict their ideas and the Lending Collection, administered by longtime teaching artist Dana Rankle, is a useful means for the public to share the artists’ newfound vision.

The art auction will take place Friday, October 5, 5:30-8:30pm, and all proceeds support the Arts Work Program at Autism Services Inc.

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