Artists with autism communicate through canvas and music

Apr 6, 2017

Autism Services is making a push to increase acceptance and awareness. The organization held an art exhibit in WNED|WBFO’s Horizons Gallery. The exhibit also featured performances by the Autism Services band No Words Spoken.

The theme was “throwback” and it featured a selection of work by artists with autism in remembrance of things past – Old Hollywood, classic cars, retro phones and plenty of nostalgic television. The band performed throwback classics including Brown Eyed Girl, Lean on Me, and My Girl.

Autism Services students band, "No Words Spoken”, perform at the art opening.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Koteras Elibol

“A lot of people don’t realize that our guys don’t get nervous to perform. It’s kind of a cultural norm that if you’re going to perform somewhere that you should freak out or be paranoid or worry about what the audience thinks about you, and what’s kind of cool about our group is that they don’t get nervous at all," said David Gorfien, music instructor at Autism Services. "They just enjoy playing, they enjoy singing together and just having fun.”

This annual arts event is designed to focus on what people with autism can do instead of what they are unable to do.

Veronica Federiconi, CEO of Autism Services, joined students at the opening reception Wednesday. 

WNED|WBFO Horizon Gallery is home to artwork from artists with autism.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Koteras Elibol

“I think people tend to focus on what they are not able to do, or not capable of doing, so in that respect I believe there are [misconceptions about people with autism]. They are no different than you or I. They may process a little differently, or learn in a different way, but actually we are all equals and we really try to respect and celebrate the fact that they’re no different from anybody else. It’s just another population of a very diverse culture,” Federiconi said.

One of the artists, Liz Harzewski, was thrilled when she learned that her painting, Nature Cat, had been sold. 

Liz Harzewski was thrilled when she learned that her artwork, titled Nature Cat, was sold.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Koteras Elibol

“How on earth could I ever be so lucky?” declared Harzewski upon learning of the sale of her work.

When people with autism repeat the same thing over and over again, people are inclined to redirect the topic, said Federiconi.

“But what we do is really encourage them to talk about what’s of interest of them through different ways. So putting those interests on canvas and then exhibiting them really brings it to the community—for the community to be aware of their abilities and to enjoy what they’re capable of doing,” Federiconi explained. 

“The arts has really given them a voice for them over the years when it’s sometimes very challenging for them to speak,” Federiconi said. “Though at Autism Services we celebrate autism all year long. We have an exhibit up, it’s kind of a throwback exhibit from previous years and I think some of the music that will be performed today by our musical group No Words Spoken will be some of our throwback music as well.”

Autism artist Stacey stands next to her work depicting Charlie Chaplin.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Koteras Elibol

The band performed throwback classics in keeping with the theme of the exhibit. 

“The event, we’re doing a throwback show, so a lot of the artwork on the walls is a lot of throwback material from the music that we’re going to be playing. So a lot of the songs are actually older songs that, before I started working here, the guys know from heart,” Gorfien said.

The artwork will remain on display in the gallery and is for sale until April 28. 

WNED/WBFO Horizon Gallery is home to artwork from Artists of Autism.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Koteras Elibol

“Our hope is that people will buy it, but it’s not necessary, it’s more for people to just enjoy it in their environment and learn to have a better respect for the work that people are capable of doing,” Federiconi remarked.

Federiconi noted a percent of the art sold will go back to the artist. The remainder of the proceeds will go back into the service provided by the organization.

“It’s extremely costly to buy canvases and all the materials that are needed, but certainly worth it. So the money will go right back into the service,” Federiconi said.

For more than a decade, the organization has been presenting the art exhibit, giving the autistic students a voice to speak through artwork and music.  

“It’s just another way to highlight what these folks are really capable of doing. They’re amazing artists, musicians, performers. They really enjoy it. They love to get the feedback from the audience,” remarked Fedriconi.