Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Art - Impact and Reach

Three Cows, Oil Pastel and Pen on Paper, 2012 by Jimmy Reagan
Since Jimmy's diagnosis with autism when he was 2 1/2, our journey has been a path full many blind hills and perilous turns which drove our fears of his unknown future spiraling into worry.  When asking physicians what his future would hold, suggestions, potential or even an inkling of a visual image were not offered. How could there be a vision or answers? Autism was a virtual unknown effecting 1 in 10,000 births when Jimmy was diagnosed in 1996. We were a society of the blind leading the blind.

Hanging onto the hope I saw in Jimmy's face was often a difficult chore. Yet without hope, discouragements are easy to see and hard to let go.  I realized early in Jimmy's diagnosis that I was someone who was positive and outcome focused.  At first, I thought others were like me as well.  But, I found out fairly rapidly that many people with newly diagnosed children were not as optimistic as I was and many were devastated without hope. Honestly, I am not sure how I was optimistic….the diagnosis seemed like a death sentence. But then again, I have always been a person who liked the odds for the underdog.  My husband used to describe how we felt about the autism diagnosis as follows: your child has a terminal disease that will last 80 years, he will suffer endlessly, it will cost you a fortune and there are no treatments for his illness . Boy, loads of encouragement there….yet, that was the state of care and knowledge about autism 16 years ago.  Thankfully, our society is making some progress in understanding and care.

Over the last few weeks, I have received numerous emails, had conversations and overhead conversations full of hope.  Hope that Jimmy has generated for other kids in the spectrum and their families.  Truly, I didn't see this coming and I think that it is important to share.

Blue Dog - Oil Pastel on Paper, 2010, Jimmy Reagan

A few weeks ago, I delivered a Blue Dog prints to a pediatrician who purchased it. She hung it in her Clinic office and shared Jimmy's story with her colleagues  - several who had seen him as a patient.  Having many children in the spectrum in her practice,  she told me that Blue Dog would be her reminder that every kid with autism has potential.  She would look at these kids differently.  Not only did she enjoy Blue Dog for the art, she sought to find better understanding of kids with autism as a result of her exposure to Jimmy and his art. I had no idea that Jimmy's art might have this impact. I have heard similar stories from the doctors at the University of Minnesota Autism Spectrums Disorders Clinic where several of Jimmy's pieces are hung. I have realized that Jimmy's art reaches people in so many different ways.

Impact and Reach are interesting words which have gathered new meaning for me. An email was forwarded to me over the weekend from Brian's aunt who recently lost her husband. She used one of Jimmy's note cards to thank a friend who had sent her condolences.  The friend has a nephew with autism and was quite taken by Jimmy's note card and his website. Her nephew is 8 years old. This lovely woman described how she was spending time and working with this young man.  She found Jimmy's art an inspiration for herself and her nephew.  She used the words impact and inspiration several times in her communication.  She believed that Jimmy's website would offer hope and encouragement  for her nephew and his family.  In the last few years, I have thought mostly about how Jimmy's art effects Jimmy and less on how it impacts others.  Truly, I just had no idea how his work and accolades would change the way people think about Jimmy and those with autism.  When Jimmy was young,  we didn't have a "visual" image of what he might look like as an adult or what his future might hold. Jimmy's art offers others that "visual" message that was missing for us.

Italian Coast - Acrylic on Canvas, 2012 by Jimmy Reagan
"Reach"  is defined by Webster as: to stretch out physically or extend as far as a particular place or point. In other words, how many people can you touch with what you do. Recently, Erik's Ranch and Retreats applied for funding from a Foundation.  Their request was turned down because the Foundation was looking to fund organizations that had more "reach" than Erik's Ranch and Retreats does at the moment.  Now at first sight, you might agree - Erik's Ranch and Retreats tour program has less than 10 kids in the program and the Foundation was hoping to "reach" more like 1,000 individuals.  These 7 kids from Erik's Ranch and Retreat will, in fact, offer tremendous "reach" as Jimmy has.  They will show potential to others who had a different impression of what might be possible. They will offer hope and encouragement  to others in the spectrum and their families.   They will "reach" many.

Cow and Goat #2, Oil Pastel and Pen on Paper, 2012, by Jimmy Reagan

Recently, there was a reception for Jimmy in Northfield. The weather was horrible - torrential rain discouraging the large crowd that we had hoped for.  Sales were not the highlight of the evening.  Although, a  group of young artists who share Jimmy's challenges were most certainly the highlight of the night.  This group of young artist in their late teens and twenties arrived with joy and respect for what they saw on the walls. I overheard conversations which went like this: "maybe, I could make note cards and  maybe, my art could be on the walls of this store." Parents thanked us for coming and showing their kids what potential they have. Jimmy's art offers a sense of hope for kids in the spectrum and their families.  We  "reached" many people  on that rainy night. 

Girl with Hat - Acrylic on Canvas 2012, by Jimmy Reagan
The data. Jimmy's website has had nearly 90,000 hits since last May.  He has had visits from countries around the world with regular visitors from the US, Russia, UK, Germany, France, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Argentina and many others.  He was recently invited to submit works for an exhibit in Berlin, Germany. We will know at the end of the month if he is accepted into the exhibit.  He is currently on the University of Minnesota Website Home page.  His work CafĂ© at Night  went up on Clear Channel billboards across Minneapolis and St. Paul on Monday. Jimmy's "reach" is worldwide.  If someone told me this was going to happen a year ago, I would have told them they were nuts.

Jimmy's art speaks for itself with joyful color combinations, mysterious and intriguing portraits and subject matter that is easily relatable.  Jimmy can't speak for himself yet his art speaks volumes encouraging kids who share his struggles and their families offering hope when hope seems so hard to visualize.  I never imagined that this could happen.  I am so grateful that he has become a messenger of hope and potential - this may be Jimmy's true gift.  

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