MCLA traveling art show to open at Wheaton College


NORTON, Mass. - Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) of North Adams, Mass., has announced the opening of "The Art and Life of Jessica Park," March 1 through April 11, in the Madeleine Clark Wallace Library at Wheaton College.

Organized by students from the advanced museum studies class at MCLA, under the direction of fine and performing arts department Chairman Tony Gengarelly, Ph.D., the exhibit celebrates the artwork of Jessica Park, a nationally renowned artist with autism. The traveling show, which last was exhibited at Eastern Michigan University, in Ypsilanti, Mich., includes more than 40 images of Park's work, including sketches and paintings, as well as photographs of the artist from throughout her life.

On March 9, in addition to delivering a 3 p.m. talk about Park's art as a means to understand autism and creativity, Gengarelly will participate in a panel discussion about the exhibit, at 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Hindle Auditorium, in the Science Center at Wheaton College. The day's events will conclude with an opening reception at 8 p.m., in the Madeleine Clark Wallace Library.

The events are free and open to the public.

The traveling exhibit is the latest in a series of Park-related projects by MCLA students. In 2008, Gengarelly's students produced a major publication, "Exploring Nirvana: The Art and Life of Jessica Park." The book highlights Park's career as an artist, as well as her lifelong struggle to overcome the developmental disorder of autism.

"It is through this kind of experiential learning that so much about human nature and the working world can be understood and then combined in a project that invites all students on various levels to participate and to share their insights and enthusiasm about the remarkable art of a truly extraordinary person," Gengarelly said. "Bringing the work of an artist to the attention of the public is what arts management is all about."

Told in various accounts by art and autism professionals, as well as by the MCLA students who worked with Park, the "Exploring Nirvana" was a four-year endeavor. Students contributed 26 essays and helped with fundraising and marketing. Columbia University professor Dr. Oliver Sacks, whom The New York Times called "the poet laureate of medicine," wrote the book's foreword.

Professionals from the field of autism praised the publication.

According to Dr. June Groden, director of the Groden Center, an autism research institute in Providence, R.I., the book is "a student project with professional results" that will appeal to many readers. And, Ann Telfer, president of the Ann Arbor Autism Foundation, said, the book is "a gift not only to the 1.5 million families affected by autism, but to the entire world. . . . 'Exploring Nirvana' should appeal not only to individuals interested in or affected by autism, but to anyone with an interest in visual art and the process of artistic creation."

For more information about "The Art and Life of Jessica Park" at Wheaton College, go to JessicaPark or or call (508) 286-3650.