Drawing from another perspective, City Hall exhibit features work by artists with autism

"Philadelphia: A Spectrum of Experiences," an exhibit at City Hall, showcases the artwork of Philadelphians with autism. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

In a corridor just off the elevators on the fourth and fifth floors of Philadelphia City Hall, vibrant artwork by local artists peppers the walls. The artwork is part of the 2018 Philadelphia Autism Project Art Show, which called on members of the autistic community to submit works conveying how they experience the city as part of the city’s “Art in City Hall” program.

The program began in 1984 as a small juried art exhibition program, but eventually grew into the program that exists today, which features exhibitions year-round that highlight the diverse cultures of Philadelphia. The Autism Project Art Show is the first of its kind, but exhibitions manager Tu Huynh said it’s exactly the sort of exhibit that belongs at City Hall.

“It’s very appropriate and necessary for exhibits like the Philadelphia Autism Project to be showcased here,” he said. “The arts have a vital role to play when it comes to raising awareness on social issues.”

Approximately 80 works are on display as part of the autism show; more than 100 artists of all ages from all corners of the city submitted work for consideration. The exhibit is a collaboration between The Philadelphia Autism Project, the Department of Behavioral Health and disAbility Services, the office of Councilman Derek Green, and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy.

A detail of "First Snow" by Emmanuel Muluh at the City Hall exhibit of works by Philadelphians with autism.
A detail of “First Snow” by Emmanuel Muluh at the City Hall exhibit of works by Philadelphians with autism. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The exhibit features a range of styles. There are abstract paintings that convey the emotional experience of living in Philadelphia. One called “Me and My Friends” looks almost like a Robert Rauschenberg painting — with wild splashes of reds, purples, and blues — and affixed Polaroid shots that have been veiled with smears of paint. Another called “Vinny’s Cornerstore” features a collage of candy wrappers against a neon pink and yellow background, symbolizing the connection the artist feels to his community.

There are also very detailed depictions of some of the city’s most recognizable landmarks and symbols. An intricate illustration of a pedestrian crossing in front of the Italian Market is made to look like Abbey Road, with the artist and his family standing in for the Beatles. The Eagles and the Phillies also make an appearance, with illustrations of the eagle Challenger catching a football and the Philly Phanatic in the snow next to a snowman.

Green said the diversity of the art on display by both children and adults reflects the makeup of the autism community.

“It really shows that people on the autism spectrum have a lot of different perspectives and capabilities and different ways of expressing themselves,” he said. “People are not all just abstract. People are also not all detail. It’s a combination of all of those things in between.”

The show runs until April 27 and is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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