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'Radically Inclusive' project gives career training to young artists with autism

San Diego Union-Tribune - 6/30/2019

Jun. 30--As the mother of a child with autism, Andrea Moriarty has two words for fellow parents trying to help their children transition into the working world as adults: "Lean in."

That's what she and her husband, Jim, did a decade ago when their teenage son, Reid, expressed a passion for performing music and using a microphone. With his parents' help, Reid, now 25, will soon release his fourth music CD and has published more than 80 celebrity interview podcasts under the title "Talk Time with Reid Moriarty."

Learning how to channel her son's interests and strengths into a fulfilling life and marketable career is the subject of two instructional books Moriarty has published in the past three years. It's also the idea behind the Solana Beach resident's latest project, the Radical Inclusion Traveling Art Show.

Moriarty worked with two local arts foundations over the past several months to pair six professional San Diego County artists with six young emerging artists with autism. The teams met separately and produced both individual and collaborative artworks for a curated exhibit that will travel to up to nine galleries and other pubic spaces countywide from Aug. 3 through December 2020.

The exhibition's name was inspired by Moriarty's second book, "Radical Inclusion: What I Learned About Risk, Humility and Kindness from My Son with Autism."

"Collaborating on a shared passion, whether it is art, music, or baking, brings out our best selves," said Moriaty. "I hope viewers will see the artwork, hear the stories behind each piece, and be inspired to invite people from the margins of culture into the limelight. That is radical inclusion."

Moriarty said she discovered the mutually beneficial results of radical inclusion while watching her son conduct interviews with open-hearted celebrities like musicians Aloe Blacc and Keb' Mo', Rubio's founder Ralph Rubio and the CEO of Trader Joe's. In every case, Moriarty said the subjects learned how to connect with Reid in "beautiful" conversations where her son was always treated with kindness, humility and respect.

Only by creating more inclusive environments, Moriarty said, can these adult children "have opportunity, employment, fulfillment and naturally occurring support."

One such inclusive environment, which Moriarty profiled in her "Radical Inclusion" book, is Creativity Explored in San Francisco. It's a studio and online marketplace where more than 100 artists with disabilities can produce, market, sell and license their work.

"They're treating them as a legitimate voice in the contemporary art world. It's not a recreational program. Not a sympathy vote. They have a viable voice in the culture as artists," Moriarty said.

After visiting Creativity Explored last November, Moriarty said she was inspired to launch the Radical Inclusion Traveling Art Exhibition because she wanted local artists with disabilities to have the same opportunities.

One of the six artist teams taking part in the Radical Inclusion exhibit is Encinitas artist Moya Devine and emerging artist Katie Flores, 24, of Rancho Santa Fe. During three two-hour mentoring sessions they collaborated on an acrylic painting of colorful flower blossoms. Katie also created a painting of a jaguar and Devine painted a portrait of Katie with her jaguar in the background.

Although Katie has been attending art classes for two years, her mom, Margie Flores, wasn't sure her daughter would do well in a one-on-one session because Katie can be set in her ways and easily distracted. But Flores said her daughter blossomed during the sessions with Devine, and Devine said she loved having another artist in her usually solitary studio.

"It was the perfect match," Flores said. "Moya has this zen personality and she just 'got' Katie. Over time, they pulled away from the traditional teacher-student mode and ended up as just two adults collaborating together."

Margie and her husband, Mike, have two adult children with autism. Their 23-year-old son, Kevin, has a passion for frosting cakes. He's finishing up work on his food handler's license with the goal of having his own dessert catering business. Like his sister Katie, Kevin is following his passion to learn an employable skill with the help of professional mentors.

California public schools provide education, vocational and social skills training to special-needs students through the age of 22. After that, it's up to parents like the Floreses to find employment for their adult children. Because of his disability, Kevin wouldn't be a good fit in a fast-paced commercial bakery, but he could run his own small business. And Katie is also a talented seamstress, so her parents plan to print her art designs on fabric to make patterned clothing and wearable art.

"You want to help them find a job that builds on their strengths," Flores said. "We know that with the right support they can do a lot more than just fold pizza boxes or something like that."

Devine has been a professional artist for 30 years and has worked as a public school teacher since 2005. She's now a full-time art instructor at DiegueƱo Middle School in Encinitas. When she first started teaching, Devine worked as a reading and math instructor for children who were struggling to keep up. As a result, she said she has a special spot in her heart for young people "who don't fit the mold."

Devine describes Katie as a speedy painter with a strong sense of color. Although Katie is not exceptionally verbal, the two women formed a comfortable bond quickly, working with the same rhythm, a few words and a shared sense of purpose.

The mentoring sessions and art exhibition were underwritten with grants from two local art accessibility organizations, Synergy Arts Foundation in Solana Beach and the Revision Creative Arts Program in Old Town. The other five artist/emerging artist teams are Amanda Saint-Clare and Jack Medved; Ethan Marr and Anna Stoefen; Joy Boe and Brenden Kerr; Deron Cohen and Stevenson Sapper; and Rich Walker and Alejandra Acosta. All of the emerging artists are in their 20s.

The exhibition's first stop is Sophie's Gallery at 109 Rea Ave. in El Cajon, where it will run from Aug. 3-25. The opening reception is 5 to 8 p.m.Aug. 3.

Future stops include the Revision Gallery in San Diego, Sept. 21-Oct. 31; Culture Brewing in Encinitas, January 2020; The Foundry in Carlsbad, Feb. 28-March 23, 2020; Lux Art Institute in Encinitas, May 30-Aug. 1, 2020; Solana Beach City Hall, Aug. 15-30, 2020; and The Church at Rancho Bernardo, November-December 2020. Two other locations have yet to be announced. For details, visits andreamoriarty.com or synergyarts.org.

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(c)2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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