By Alicia Stemper / Vitamin O
A special group of Extraordinary Artists meets every other Friday night in Chapel Hill. These artists, led by the team from HappyMess Art Studios, get together for creativity, community and a chance to celebrate the artist within each person. Most of the young adults have autism; several of them are also employed by Extraordinary Ventures businesses. Examples include making soaps and candles, cleaning transit buses, walking pets, running a wash/dry/fold laundry service, managing the event center, and providing office solutions to area companies.
Art class participants made collage portraits the night Vitamin O visited, using tissue paper, crayons, and markers to draw out the facial features of their creation.
Matt Maginn was so enthusiastic he had trouble waiting to begin. He exclaimed, “Let’s get this show on the road” several times as he danced excitedly in place awaiting instructions.
Lana Morgan smiled as she concentrated. Though her speech was at times difficult to understand, her enthusiasm was clear. “It’s fun and you can express yourself through arts.”
Ewan Toscano, a student who takes art class very seriously, joked about his secondary purpose for attending when he said “pizza” is his favorite part of art class. Samuel Rojas agreed. He said, “I like art class and I can eat some pizza.” He told me his face was going to feature “a rainbow design.” Brian O’Donnell took a similar approach. When I asked Brian his favorite color, he said, “All six of them.”
Holly Phelan, owner of HappyMess, brings an ease and an energy to the classes. She roams the room, making connections, offering encouragement, and setting a clear tone of joy and experimentation. Asked to describe how Orange County is different than New York City, Holly said, “Less honking, better manners, more kinship, and better food.”
Once a year, these extraordinary artists showcase their work during a special evening known as “An Artful Affair.” This gala event is free and open to the public. Last year it was held in the Reynolds Theatre at the Bryan Center on Duke University’s campus. To learn more, visit www.extraordianaryventures.org.