For many adults with autism and developmental disabilities, 200 S. Elliot Road is a safe haven.
The Chapel Hill locale is home to Extraordinary Ventures, a non-profit organization founded in 2007 to train and direct individuals with disabilities to viable career paths. Extraordinary Artists, a subgroup of the organization, was founded in 2012, establishing a more creative outlet for participants through the provision of art classes.
On Thursday, Extraordinary Artists will display the work of participants with its annual art showcase, “An Artful Affair.” The gala is open to the public and intended to celebrate the participants’ creative agency and share their stories. A silent auction will follow the evening’s festivities.
Cyndi Whisnant, events director for Extraordinary Ventures, said that the showcase represents a unique opportunity for participants and their families to celebrate their abilities rather than their hardships.
“The art itself will make you smile, but the smiles of the people who’ve made it is so infectious. They are so proud, and they want to tell you about it,” she said. “That’s so huge because you know, with people with autism, communication is a real problem. But this is a way for them to talk, to share a little bit about who they are.”
Whisnant piloted the Extraordinary Artists program last fall with the Art Therapy Institute of Carrboro. The initial pilot consisted of six sessions and culminated in one large event, “The Artful Affair,” which was also held November 2012.
The night of the event, Whisnant said she was contacted by Holly Phelan Johnson of “HappyMess,” a Durham-based art studio that works with a broad demographic — from children to senior citizens to people with developmental disabilities.
Whisnant said she and Johnson drafted a grant proposal for the Orange County Arts Commission. Upon receiving a large grant for Extraordinary Artists, they transformed the lesson plans for the program, with each class focusing on a particular art style with a specific artist in mind.
Whisnant said the artistic prowess of participants fell across the entire spectrum of ability.