I was honoured when back in January I met with Amanda McMahon Director of Learning and Engagement at Thought Foundation, she offered me the opportunity to be commissioned by themselves and North East Autism Society (NEAS) to be the lead artist on a project working with a group of young autistic people.
With funding received from The Big Lottery I was able to facilitate fortnightly creative workshops, with the end goal being to create an exhibition of works that would explore and celebrate the voices of these young people, who wanted to share their experiences of being autistic.
All too often the real experiences of autistic people are lost amongst the noise of political debate, false assumptions and it is not often enough that society listens to the experiencer.
This is improving and with organisations like NEAS who work with such passion and empathy to improve the lives of those on the spectrum, things look hopeful. Meeting the ‘gang’ which the young group eventually named ‘Autism Activists’ was quite frankly awesome, and activists they were right from the get-go. They were charged with opinion, facts, knowledge and assertiveness about who they are and what they want to say.
The young activists decided they wanted the exhibition the be ‘protest style’ with their bold messages shouting to be heard using a mix of typography and illustration. Over the weeks we met at Thought Foundation, which became a couple of hours ‘creative calm’, a chance to sit quietly, reflect, create and escape the chaos of the outside world.
The activists were so dedicated to the project that despite their daily challenges they would come along and share openly with me their personal experiences whilst painting, illustrating, playing with clay, being interviewed, and creating their own unique typeface which was then cleverly animated with the help of Newcastle College animation student Aaron Lambert.
Aaron went on to receive a ‘Diversity Award’ at the college for his input into the project. The experience I had of running these workshops was really quite profound, I learned so much and built a lovely bond with the young activists.
On the night of the exhibition launch, I felt such a huge sense of responsibility, turning all of their hard work into something they could be proud of. If the difference I saw in them on the launch night is anything to go by I would say I achieved that, so full of empowerment, marching around with their protest signs, heads held high rightly proud of who they are. It was wonderful to see.
The icing on the cake on top of what was already a dream project, was seeing in the papers, the Big Issue and over the internet images of some of the gang protest signs in hand taking their campaigning for equality, inclusion and acceptance to the streets of London and even right up to 10 Downing Street. Go Autism Activists!! Show them how it’s done. Art empowers people and that is gold.