Merchant Street Art Gallery of Artists with Autism has continued to advance the careers of artists with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder since opening in 2015.

To further their mission, gallery artists were commissioned to create five paintings for the conference rooms in the newly remodeled ComEd complex in Chicago. The $5,000 commission project was done through a ComEd grant.

“People on the autism spectrum can have careers in art or music,” gallery director Janice Miller said. “By showcasing great art by artists with autism, MSAGAA helps artists pursue professional careers in art. That’s the long-term goal.”

To celebrate the completion of the ComEd project, paintings were unveiled Saturday at the gallery.

Paul and Ellen Leader were among those in attendance to view the art.

“The whole project sounded so interesting,” Ellen Leader said. “We wanted to come and see it. We are so impressed.”

Artists in the gallery’s Art as a Business group worked on the paintings that depict the people, places and things in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood, on Chicago’s northwest side.

MSAGAA artists who worked on the paintings included Sean and Aric Turrell, Josh West, Jovan Ponnambalam, Andrew Carroll, Johnny Small and Drew Carricker.

The project began over the summer when some of the artists visited the neighborhood they were to represent. Those artists took photos to share with the other artists working on the project, Miller said.

“The art represents neighborhoods of the Chicago area and connected artists to learn more about areas of the city they may have not known before,” she added.

The paintings feature downtown Bemont Central, Cragin Park, a neighborhood of bungalow homes, Polish dancers representing the area’s Polish history and a collage of people and cars representing the area’s Hispanic culture.

“I did a lot of drawing first,” said Aric Turrell, who noted drawing was done before putting paint to canvas.

In addition to finding the subject matter to paint, the artists also were challenged with working as a team, meeting times and time management. The artists met two to three times each week in July through October to sketch out and paint the five pieces.

“Our artists had to work as a team. For people with autism, that’s significant,” Miller said. “They had expectations to show up and work toward a goal. They were working on a job and accomplished it.”

“This was huge for our artists. They spent many months on the pieces, which turned out beautiful,” gallery volunteer Victoria Vruno said. “To receive a commission of this size, and to be able to pay our artists, is such a gift and honor.”

Miller added that one of the artists on the team who never talked much before, not only began talking but spearheaded one aspect of working on the job – time sheets.

“He put the time sheets together, taught others how to use it and enforced it,” Miller said. “That’s significant.”

She added, “All of our artists involved worked very hard on this project and we are proud of the sense of teamwork and cooperation they have shown,” Miller said.

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