Jessica Park Project
Established in 2004, the Jessica Park Project at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is a multiyear educational endeavor to study, display and publish the art of Jessica Park. A 2016 Raw Vision article underscored Park’s reputation as an exceptional artist and the role of the Project in promoting her career. Over the past few years the Project has embraced the work of other artists on the autism spectrum as well as those on the broader spectrum of Outsider Art.
Under the direction of MCLA Professor Tony Gengarelly, the Jessica Park Project has produced six exhibitions involving Jessica’s work. A traveling show, “The Art and Life of Jessica Park,” that premiered in 2008, visited a number of colleges and universities in the Midwest and New England. In 2012 an exhibition at MCLA Gallery51, “Visions from the Edge: The Artists of Pure Vision,” included Jessica Park along with ten other artists from the New York Studio/Gallery Pure Vision Arts.
In 2008 the Jessica Park Project published Exploring Nirvana: The Art of Jessica Park. Edited by Tony Gengarelly and Adria Weatherbee, this 98 page book is replete with 86 full color illustrations of Park’s art. Along with 26 catalog entries by MCLA students, the book also contains essays from experts in the fields of autism and Outsider Art (including Professor Gengarelly, Clara Claiborne Park and Emmanuelle Delmas-Glass). Oliver Sacks wrote the book’s Foreword. Exploring Nirvana has received critical acclaim and has been distributed through bookstores, museums and online to national and international readers.
A World Transformed: The Art of Jessica Park (MCLA 2014) is the latest publication from the Jessica Park Project. This 48 page, fully illustrated art biography written by Tony Gengarelly, edited by MCLA Education Professor Dale Borman Fink with illustrations by Danielle Christensen (MCLA 2011), reveals an artist whose autism and creativity work together to create unusual and extraordinary works of art. Pamala Rogers, Director of the Shield Institute Pure Vision Arts Studio, who contributed the Foreword, sums up the book’s intention: Many of the artists [on the autism spectrum such as Jessica Park] have led amazing lives. The sheer power and uniqueness of their expression adds greatly to our humanity and helps society advance by breaking down negative stereotypes and misperceptions about people with autism and other disabilities.
Another exhibition in 2014 at MCLA Gallery51, “Inside the Outside: Reconsidering Our Views about Art,” celebrated the publication of A World Transformed with a display of diverse artwork from self-taught and outsider artists, professional artists and art educators. In concert with the exhibition, the Project sponsored two Evenings of Discussion at MCLA Gallery51. A Discussion on “Art and Biography” was introduced by Jamie Franklin, Curator at the Bennington Museum. The week following a Discussion on “Art Education and the Education of the Artist” was facilitated by Ilene Spiewak, artist, art therapist and teacher representing the College Internship Program in Lee, Massachusetts. The Winter 2015 edition of The Folk Art Messenger featured an article by Tony Gengarelly on the March 2014 exhibition and symposium.
During the summer and fall of 2014, The Jessica Park Project partnered with the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center to produce an exhibition of over 30 original artworks by Jessica Park. The exhibition, “A World Transformed,” was well received and has allowed the Project to make a connection with a very significant art community in Southeastern Vermont.
In April of 2015 Tony Gengarelly participated in a symposium at Lesley University to celebrate national autism month. Jessica Park’s art was also featured in the university’s Atrium Gallery during this time. The most recent Park group exhibition, again at the BMAC—Visions from the Edge: An Exploration of Outsider Art (2016) —featured twelve artists and a variety of outstanding examples of Outsider Art. A symposium, “Mentoring and Marketing Artists on the Edge,” accompanied the show.
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The Jessica Park Project continues to expand its focus. With Jessica Park's remarkable life and art as its model, the Project not only supports research about and highlights other artists with disabilities, but also explores marginalized community-based art such as Contemporary Folk and Native American art, Spanish American and Children's art. Project programs are also reaching out to the local community—Good Purpose Gallery and the College Internship Program, in Lee MA; Community Access to the Arts, in Great Barrington MA; the Bennington Museum, in Bennington VT; the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, in Brattleboro VT—and interfacing with organizations such as Pure Vision Arts in New York, the Groden Center in Providence, RI, and the Folk Art Society of America, whose missions embrace the creation and exhibition of Outsider Art.