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Art for all: Autistic students' work on display for Art on the Spectrum Gala

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Sometimes the smallest accommodation can make the biggest difference.

Tyler Skinner, mother to an autistic child and an event planner in San Luis Obispo, knows this to be true. After working to represent local artist Sydney Hall and brainstorming for an event to promote the annual Walk for Autism, it clicked: What if kids like hers could experience an art class in an environment that catered to their needs? So Art on the Spectrum, a five-week workshop series culminating in an art show at the SLO Museum of Art, was born.

CLASS IS IN SESSION:  SLO Artist Sydney Hall teaches art to students with autism for the Art on the Spectrum series at SLOMA. - PHOTO COURTESY OF TYLER SKINNER
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF TYLER SKINNER
  • CLASS IS IN SESSION: SLO Artist Sydney Hall teaches art to students with autism for the Art on the Spectrum series at SLOMA.

“Art gave me the inspiration to create a truly unique experience that would benefit many in a variety of ways,” Skinner said.

From February through March, a group of 17 kids took weekly classes with Hall at SLOMA, learning about great artists like Picasso, Lichtenstein, Matisse, and Andy Warhol. Their work will be on display at the Autism on the Spectrum Gala and Sensory Experience on April 29, ahead of the annual May 17 Walk for Autism. The event is a collaboration between Skinner, Hall, SLOMA, and the Central Coast Autism Spectrum Center.

“They have a lot of creativity,” Hall said of her students. “The classes are about bringing the children an outlet and a sense of accomplishment through that experience.”

Debra Balke, president for the center, said that small changes Hall made, like allowing students who got upset to go outside and calm down, allowed art to be accessible to a group of kids who might be punished or scolded in another setting for behaviors that fall outside the norm.

“People on the spectrum often can’t experience the typical things the rest of us take for granted,” Balke said.

FREE FORM:  Sydney Hall taught students in a five-week workshop at SLOMA about different artists like Picasso, Lichtenstein, Matisse, and Andy Warhol. The young artists then created their own pieces inspired by art legends. - PHOTO COURTESY OF TYLER SKINNER
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF TYLER SKINNER
  • FREE FORM: Sydney Hall taught students in a five-week workshop at SLOMA about different artists like Picasso, Lichtenstein, Matisse, and Andy Warhol. The young artists then created their own pieces inspired by art legends.

Hall said that when she walked around and asked if the students needed help, the kids would often cover up their papers. One girl shouted, “No judgment!” as she hid her art from view.

“That speaks volumes to what they encounter,” Hall said. In response, Hall told her students, “There’s zero judgment here. That’s not what this class is about.”

After that, Hall said the kids noticeably relaxed and focused on the art. Skinner said the students are now excited to have their own art exhibit.

“They’re just over the moon that they get to show their art in an art museum,” Skinner said.

At the gala, 34 pieces of the kids’ art will be on display as well as about a dozen of Hall’s own contemporary impressionist oil paintings (a portion of the proceeds from her paintings will go to the center and SLOMA’s capital campaign for a new building). In keeping with the theme of a spectrum, Skinner said there will be a range of sensory experiences including food, music, hand massages, selfie photo stations, as well as art for attendees to enjoy.

Aside from raising awareness for the Walk for Autism, Balke said she hopes the gala will help others realize that people on the autism spectrum are just like everyone else.

COMIC RELIEF:  Students in the Art on the Spectrum program learned about the art of crafting their own comics. - PHOTO COURTESY OF TYLER SKINNER
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF TYLER SKINNER
  • COMIC RELIEF: Students in the Art on the Spectrum program learned about the art of crafting their own comics.

“They want full citizenship,” Balke said. “They want work, they want relationships, and they want to make decisions for their lives. Just because someone has different abilities doesn’t mean they don’t have the same basic desires that we all do.”

Send tales of art and inclusivity to Ryah Cooley at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

ENGAGE THE SENSES:  The Art on the Spectrum Gala and Sensory Experience will be held April 29 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the SLO Museum of Art. Tickets are $65 for one person and $100 for two. The event will have appetizers, cocktails, live music, and hand massages. The Walk for Autism is on May 17 (the fair starts at noon and the walk begins at 2 p.m.) at the Mission Plaza in downtown SLO. For more information on both events, visit sloautism.org. For more of Sydney Hall’s art, visit sydneyhall.jimdo.com.
  • ENGAGE THE SENSES: The Art on the Spectrum Gala and Sensory Experience will be held April 29 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the SLO Museum of Art. Tickets are $65 for one person and $100 for two. The event will have appetizers, cocktails, live music, and hand massages. The Walk for Autism is on May 17 (the fair starts at noon and the walk begins at 2 p.m.) at the Mission Plaza in downtown SLO. For more information on both events, visit sloautism.org. For more of Sydney Hall’s art, visit sydneyhall.jimdo.com.

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