The Art Spectrum: Art Aviators at MOCA, For Children & Families in the Autism Spectrum

Photos Courtesy of Ingrid Damiani

EVENT: Art Aviators Family Workshop
WHERE: MOCA Jacksonville (333 North Laura Street, Jacksonville, FL 32202)
WHEN: Saturday, May 13, 10:00 to 11:30am
MORE INFORMATION 

The Museum of Contemporary Art invites autistic children to a morning of creating. Their Art Aviators Family Workshop is geared toward children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families. Anthony Aiuppy heads Family and Children’s Programs at MOCA. He organizes the Art Aviators workshop to encourage children with Autism Spectrum Disorders to get creative on their own terms. “Folks on the spectrum can’t always communicate verbally or through the written word,” says Aiuppy, “so giving them access to drawing and painting is a way for them to get their thoughts and feelings out in a really safe space.”

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Photos Courtesy of Ingrid Damiani

With Art Aviators, the MOCA educational staff strives to appeal to children who fall onto the spectrum in different places. “Everyone is so different in their needs,” says Aiuppy. “We have to be able to gain trust immediately so we can give them the best experience possible.” The Art Aviators arrive to MOCA before the museum opens. By admitting the Aviators into exhibits prior to museum hours, an intimate environment develops. “Students on the autism spectrum sometimes have environmental sensitivities, so they don’t like too much brightness in a room,” says Aiuppy. “Or—it’s so echo-y in the museum—it’s nice and quiet when the museum is empty. So it feels safer to them. They can experience the museum in a way that is hard when there are a lot of people here.”

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Photos Courtesy of Ingrid Damiani

“Everyone is so different in their needs. We have to be able to gain trust immediately so we can give them the best experience possible.”

The family workshop entails time to create art, navigate the Art Explorium, and experience a tour of the museum’s current exhibits. Aiuppy understands that children on the spectrum require “a large, open environment where they can play on their own terms.” The workshop’s activity tables allow Art Aviators to experiment with several mediums, such as screen printing, button making, marble painting, clay wheels, and many others. Educators from the MOCA team and enthusiastic volunteers assist students in activity processes. They remain prepared for various responses. “Some kids hate paint and that kind of texture, and some love it,” says Aiuppy. “We have lots of space for mess and anticipate that some mess is going to occur, and that’s okay.”

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Photos Courtesy of Ingrid Damiani

Overall, Aiuppy notes that maintaining flexibility is the key to working with children on the spectrum. Each step of the workshop is designed with versatility. “We’re inviting people into our environment, but we don’t know how they’re going to react,” says Aiuppy. “We just try to stay open and welcome.” Aiuppy is attending the Southeastern Museums Conference in Atlanta this September to speak on a panel on art integration for children on the spectrum. He’s looking forward to discussing this area of education from a museum perspective. “I’m learning how to adapt to students on the spectrum and provide them with access to art making.” In the future, he strives to make the workshops more frequent. The museum currently facilitates Art Aviators programming three times each year, but will soon begin to offer it bimonthly. MOCA’s educational staff is writing a grant in hopes of making admission to future Art Aviators programs free of charge.

“I’m learning how to adapt to students on the spectrum and provide them with access to art making.”

Aiuppy’s favorite part of the workshop is the organic community-building that occurs. The event builds camaraderie among families “that are on the same path of life,” says Aiuppy. “They build each other up. They don’t feel like they’re alone. There’s a whole community of people that have kids with special circumstances.” Aiuppy is proud to provide Art Aviators among a vast array of resources for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Jacksonville area.

The next Art Aviators Family Workshop occurs at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday, May 13, from 10am to 11:30am. Admission is $20 per family, which includes admission for the student and two accompanying adults. Families are encouraged to register for the workshop online

About Hurley Winkler

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