Dallas Looman is an aspiring professional artist about to receive an Award of Excellence and $2,000 for his artwork in Washington D.C. Dallas was also diagnosed with autism when he was two and a half years old. Limited by his language ability, Dallas took up art as a way to express himself and to communicate to the world. As an autistic child going through school, he would draw pictures to share with his mom what had happened that day at school.
Dallas’s passion for art turned into a dream of becoming an artist, and after years of expression and practice in pastels, his dream has come true. An international organization on arts and disability called Very Special Arts (VSA), along with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Volkswagen Group of America, will honor 15 artists by awarding a total of $60,000 and displaying their artwork at the S. Dillon Ripley Center of the Smithsonian Institution from October 1 through January 5.
The 30 by 22-inch exhibit piece by Dallas was made completely with pastels, Dallas’s favored medium. Spoken like a true artist, he says he likes pastels because of how it feels and he can just blow away the unwanted dust. The 25-year old artist from Colrain, Massachusetts, is no stranger to showcasing his work, however. He sold some of his work at an art show in Deerfield and has an eye out for more art shows to fulfill his dream of making a living as an artist. Over the summer he won an art competition held by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst.
In addition to showcasing his art in D.C., Dallas will receive two days of training and seminars. He will get to meet with an exhibit juror for professional advice on creating an art portfolio and he’ll receive professional feedback on his current work. Also during his time at the capital, Dallas will network with directors and curators of galleries and learn more about gallery exhibitions.
The organization that has awarded Dallas this opportunity, VSA, was founded in 1974 for the purpose of connecting people with disabilities to education opportunities related to the arts, including visual arts, performing arts, and the literary arts. VSA has 52 international affiliates and 7 million people participate in its programs annually.
Art has become increasingly recognized and esteemed as a productive outlet for persons with autism. Art in various forms such as painting, music and photography becomes a language by which autistic people, who struggle with language, can speak and share with other people, and an accessible way for autistic individuals to become their own agents for validation and personal growth.