Disabled, neurodivergent and chronically ill artists are taking the stage Saturday, July 30, for Beaverton's first-ever Artful Autism gala.
The 10 to 12 local artists will showcase and sell everything from decorated pill organizers, art prints, handmade jewelry and more. There will be drinks, food, a raffle and "A Night of Pure Imagination."
Tickets for the 6:30 to 9 p.m. art show at Spirit of Grace church, 7400 S.W. Scholls Ferry Road, are on sale for $50. Each ticket includes entry, one drink ticket and hors d'oeuvres.
The Program for Intellectual Empowerment, or PIE — a small Beaverton school for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities — is putting together the event.
PIE founder Pauline Lee said the idea for the Artful Autism gala came from her own experiences with her students and growing up alongside a cousin with autism. He was mostly nonverbal, but his art surprised her, she recalled.
"He started doing all this art, and then people start to realize, 'Oh, wow, there's so much that he has in him that he hasn't been able to share,'" Lee said.
Lee said she hopes Artful Autism can be more than just an art show and a gala. She hopes it will help people recognize and notice how people with disabilities are often unjustly dismissed or looked down upon.
"Really, we want to create a community," Lee said. "We want to create a movement with Artful Autism, where people with disabilities, chronic illnesses or celebrating their neurodivergences are embraced and celebrated for who they are."
Some artists she reached out to were hesitant to accept her offer for a spot — and some didn't — because "this is taking a leap of faith," Lee said. "This is coming out into a community that hasn't been very supportive, really, if you think about it," Lee said, "and we're hoping that we can change some minds."
Charlie "Thredd" Tenenbaum, the artist behind Pill Joy, said they were a little hesitant about the art show at first. It'll be a new experience to show their art at a gala, Tenenbaum said, but they'll be there, showing off their bedazzled pill organizers that "make illness fun."
"The pill organizers are almost a metaphor for the disabled experience," Tenenbaum said. "And when it's just kind of treated as this ugly, functional, practical thing, it's just forgettable. You want to shove it in a drawer, it's not part of life. … It's kind of like when people don't see the whole person."
But pill organizers are part of life, Tenenbaum said, and imbuing them with some personality — as they do with their art — makes them more notice-worthy. They're included in the conversation, and they should be, because they're giving people the best life they can have, they pointed out.
"I want that to be a celebration," Tenenbaum said.
Tenenbaum mentioned one customer in the past who was looking for a pill organizer for her 9-year-old child with autism. Pill time had always been a chore for them, but when her son worked with Tenenbaum to make a new, monster-themed pill organizer, that changed.
Now, he's reminding his mom every day about pill time and asking her about the monster of the day, Tenenbaum said.
Tenenbaum will have pill organizers for sale at the Artful Autism gala, but various designs are also available on their website, www.pilljoy.shop. They also have a giving program for people to pitch in for pill organizers for people who can't afford one.
Sarah Yan is another artist who will be showcasing and selling her art on July 30. On her Instagram, it she might look just like a pixel artist, but there's a lot more to Yan than what's on paper.
If she stays with one medium for too long, Yan gets bored. Because of that, guests at the Artful Autism gala can expect to see anything from Risograph prints and digital art to clay pins painted with pixel faces.
Yan, who is 23, said she didn't discover she was on the autism spectrum until early this year.
"I definitely feel like I fall into the group of people, particularly people who are assigned female at birth, who were really swept under the radar of a lot of doctors who probably were diagnosing autism in boys, particularly," Yan said.
When Yan found out she was autistic, it really helped her finally understand herself.
"I think when I came across Artful Autism, I feel like the general vibe that I got from their page just really resonated with me," she said, "because I feel like my art is very influenced by who I am, and who I am is a whole lot of different things, but I am also an autistic person."
Yan admitted she's a little wary of how the public will react to a show like this. Lee acknowledged that she's never done anything like this before — barely anyone has — and she knows other artists are nervous that not many people will come.
"I definitely feel like a lot of people still have a lot of stigma against disabled people in general, and so I think something that I'm really curious to see and learn is … how things go. Where do we go from there, I suppose, is my big question that I keep contemplating," Yan said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.