Categories: Entertainment

Autism turns to ‘artism’ for brothers’ big exhibit

PROUD MAMA – St. Albert resident Roma Kurtz

Two adult brothers, both with severe autism, are putting the finishing touches on an exhibit of their work to prove their substantial artistic merits. The show will not only serve that purpose but it will also offer a hands-down demonstration of their abilities to be contributing members of society.

If you ever had any doubts about the potential of those with any kind of mental or physical disability, then Ben and Grant Kurtz are about to dispel them with ease.

The two young men are now in their early twenties and have become proficient in their chosen forms of artistic expression. They don’t speak but Ben, 24, is an accomplished photographer and Grant, 22, is a fine painter.

Their mother, Roma, couldn’t be prouder. After all, her sons are growing up on their own terms, with a little help, of course. She had to figure out how they were going to spend their adult years.

“You need to make this transition when you leave high school and you move on into the adult world. You need to now fill your day and your time with meaningful activities. We asked a couple of questions: what do they like and what are they good at? Once you get a feel for what their interests are, we explored and said, ‘if they like this, would they like to try something that’s similar?”

It turned out that Grant’s love of painting arose out of his love of floating. She thought that if he liked that then he might also enjoy whitewater rafting.

“It’s just that kind of adventure that we were looking for. Sure enough, he really likes whitewater rafting. As we were exploring those questions in terms of a job or something that the boys would do, we came up with skills that they had already had for a long time. Grant always liked art in school. He liked the scissors and he liked the crayons. He liked the tempera paints.”

To help him transition to adulthood meant transitioning his art supplies. Trade in the crayons for acrylic paints. Instead of construction paper, they upgraded to canvases. By her account, he’s having the time of his life and being creative all at once. She said that he becomes very immersed in the process of making art and cares more about the process than the product.

For Ben, things were just a little bit different. He has always been a very tactile person, but discriminatingly so. Roma’s approach to helping him grow took much the same course, however. There are things he will touch and there are things he will not touch, she said. He’s always liked switches and buttons though.

She said that it was just after he graduated high school at 21 (a common age for people with special needs to finish secondary education) that she was looking through a catalogue for other courses that he could take.

“I’m just flipping the pages … just keeping Ben in mind and the kinds of things Ben likes… and there’s a photography class. Wow! Cameras have buttons.”

She contacted the instructor, Brock Kryton, who ended up giving the young man private lessons in photography and ended up mentoring him for a year, going on photo shoots together.

“Ben really took to the camera. I think – because of their autism and that they’re both non-verbal – it’s my opinion that they see the world in pictures. They’re very visual,” she stated, later adding, “It’s really awesome to be able to say that my boys have done this work. This is their work and that makes it very special.”

She also gave credit to Amanda Swanson and Gonzalo Canales for helping to mentor her boys through the early stages of their artistic careers.

The exhibit

The silent auction show and sale is set to take place from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, September 8. The works will be on display in the bistro area at Citadel Mews West located at 15 Erin Ridge Road. Micah Hussell will provide the musical accompaniment.

Roma said that the collection of works going into the show would be extensive. There could upwards of 60 pieces representing two full years of practice by these dedicated artists.

There will be a short program with speakers including Dr. Keith Goulden, an autism specialist who has worked with Ben and Grant for most of their lives. The Kurtz family will have their time on the stage as well.

“We’re going to be telling our story and how we discovered these interests.”

Proceeds from the sales will go primarily toward furthering the artistic career paths and mentorship opportunities for the Kurtz brothers. A portion of the proceeds will also go to the Centre for Autism, an organization that works to provide support and services for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder across their entire lifespan.

“They have clinics for children with autism. Currently, we do not have a clinic for an adult with autism. It’s in the beginning stages of something that is being worked toward,” Roma explained.

For more information, please visit www.centreforautism.ab.ca.

Kurtz has also created her own organization of sorts to help promote Ben and Grant and their artistic endeavours. Autism Artistry has a Facebook page and there are already a few videos on their Youtube channel found at www.youtube.com/channel/UCe7UbPKwUPjjfl61WcipYkA.

Scott Hayes: Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.