BRIDGEPORT — A new exhibit aims to offer visitors a glimpse into the creative minds of artists with autism.
Created by artists with Project Onward, the "Smile with Your Mind: Autobiographies of Autism" exhibit will purposely overstimulate visitors by sending them through small spaces packed with the work of the nonprofit's working artists, about half of whom are affected by disorders on the autism spectrum.
The exhibit is scheduled to debut April 4 at Project Onward, an art gallery and studio for artists with mental and developmental disabilities located on the fourth floor of the Bridgeport Art Center, 1200 W. 35th St.
"Smile with Your Mind" coincides with another exhibit titled "Face to Face" that invites viewers to question how they see autism and those affected by it through a series of portraits by Project Onward artists. Together, the exhibits will feature the work of 18 artists affected by autism.
Leaders at the nonprofit say autism spectrum disorders present everyday challenges to the artists — there are obstacles to navigate like sensitivity to light, sound and touch — but that's what makes their work so unique.
Louis DeMarco is one of the contributing artists to the "Smile with Your Mind" exhibit, which is named after one of his paintings.
He said his artwork, some of which depicts a fantasy kingdom guarded by protectors, is about letting out his feelings and thoughts.
"I also want people to understand that stuff, and what they're about, and how I feel what it's like to live in my world, and what that stuff means, and I want them to understand my difficulties and the good stuff," he said.
Project Onward was founded in 2004 as part of the Gallery 37 initiative, a job-training program started by the city in the early 1990s. A year later, it became part of city’s now-disbanded Department of Cultural Affairs and moved into the Chicago Cultural Center.
Last year, the group moved into new digs at the Bridgeport Art Center, providing artists with new work space and materials, as well as opportunities for exhibition and sale of their work.
The upcoming exhibits, which highlight Autism Awareness month, are just part of a long list of events and exhibits featured there throughout the year, including the fundraising "portrait slams" where guests are invited to have their portrait created by Project Onward artists.
Later this year, Project Onward artist Andrew Hall will begin work on the CTA 47th Street "L" station, one of several artists across the city to get the nod for the Red Line South public art project.