Autism art show in Edmonton provides chance for independence

Everyone is an artist. 

At least that’s what the young people behind the artwork on display at the Stollery Gallery at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts in Edmonton say. 

“It’s just about doing something that you enjoy and it doesn’t have to be perfect because at the end of the day, the mistakes sometimes add to the artwork,” said Ella Guirguis, who was part of the Centre for Autism Services Alberta’s (CFASA) Annual Art Show and Sale on Saturday.

The show featured the work of kids, teens and young adults who are part of the CFASA’s art programs, which run from September until June each year. The programs allow people with autism from ages 6 to 29 to learn from top instructors at the Nina Haggerty Centre as they develop their own creative visions. 

The Centre for Autism Services Alberta’s Annual Art Show and Sale showcases the work produced through art programs in partnership with the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Kaija Melenka, community and family services coordinator at CFASA, said while the instructors teach participants techniques, students are encouraged to exercise independence in their creative work. 

“It makes a huge difference when somebody is able to be autonomous and express themselves in the way that they would like … especially those who might have difficulty expressing themselves in ways that other people readily understand or accept,” she said.

The process also helps build confidence and autonomy, “which everyone deserves,” Melenka said.

This acrylic painting, titled Mountain Lake, is one of two pieces of artwork by Ella Guirguis. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

‘A really good eye for detail’

Guirguis had two pieces of artwork on display this weekend. She said she included multiple textures in both pieces, including a large painting of a landscape. 

“I’ve used various mediums to make it so each area feels slightly different. So I like touching it, and it really is enjoyable to see that you can make art that has multiple purposes,” she said. 

Another participant, Mathieson Erickson, has been part of the program since 2015. 

He began his art journey seven years ago, and since then, he has volunteered and done paid work at the Nina Haggerty Centre. 

Mathieson Erickson is one of the artists whose work is showcased, but he has also volunteered helping out other program participants. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Erickson said the experience has exposed him to artwork by others, which has influenced his own creativity by inspiring him to try new techniques.

Like many people with autism, Erickson said he has “a really good eye for detail.” For that reason, he said he likes abstract art since it taps into his ability to spot things others might miss. 

Much like Guirguis, Erickson said there’s no wrong way to make art. 

“Anyone is just as capable [as anyone else] of being a great artist.”

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