Exhibit encourages autism awareness

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A local art gallery is giving a glimpse into the world of autistic children with a new exhibit of their artistic works that will coincide with April, which celebrates National Autism Awareness Month.

The Sheldon Art Galleries will present the exhibition “Things That Matter: Art by Children with Autism,” opening April 19 at the AT&T Gallery of Children’s Art (3648 Washington Blvd.). The exhibit contains about 60 pieces, including drawings, paintings, mixed media, photographs and sculptures done by autistic children from St. Louis and the surrounding area.

The Sheldon exhibit came about when Olivia Lahs-Gonzales, Sheldon Art Galleries director, met Bevin Early, an artist and educator who works with autistic children. Lahs-Gonzales and Early crossed paths at a similar show and decided to coordinate the show together.

“[Early] had mentioned other art exhibits by autistic children in the past,” Lahs-Gonzales said. “We’re always looking for children’s art exhibits for our space. When I heard that it was something she had done and something she wanted to do more of, I invited her put a proposal together for our AT&T Gallery space. It sounded like an extremely worthwhile project and something the Sheldon wanted to do.”

Early and Nancy Pierson, a fellow artist and educator who works with children with autism, began to host workshops for the children to create art that would be prominently displayed for the general public to view.

Pierson said that there are three main goals for the project.

“One is the advocacy for the kids,” Pierson said. “[The second is] giving the kid an opportunity to show [his or her] work and to participate in a sort of a gallery experience, as well as [for] the families . Many of these kids, they’re not going to have the soccer games and the piano recitals. It’s an opportunity to be a part of the community.

“[Our final goal is] educating people about autism, [so] people will come away with how bright these kids are, and [that] they do have interests that are important to them, and that many can’t express that, but can through art.”

“Things That Matter: Art by Children with Autism” runs from April 18 to Sept. 13. The gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Admission is free.