Dorchester Students with Autism Make Massive Ellen Mosaic
The folks at Artaic, the South Boston manufacturing shop that relies on a robot to help them make mosaics for hotels and clubs, might have a little competition on their hands.
It took 150 kids with autism, and more than 33,264 tiles placed by hand, but students from the Sensory Arts program at Dorchester’s Joseph Lee school finally finished an 8-foot-tall mosaic of talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres last week.
Appropriately called, “The World’s Largest Mosaic of Ellen by Students With Autism,” the weeks-long project was led by Christopher Hall, who teaches the Sensory Arts program at the school.
“I have been a fan of Ellen’s for a long time, she is a very positive person, and is always recognizing people that are doing amazing things,” said Hall. “I think she would be open to taking on autism, and just showing a different side of it. She knows what it’s like to push the message of the importance of being yourself, and that’s what it’s all about—just being comfortable in your skin and who you are, regardless of what other people think. And that fits in really well with kids with disabilities.”
Hall hopes DeGeneres will see what the students created and possibly feature it on her show.
“What we really want to do is get the word out, and see if she can show some positive stories of accomplishment, and these kids are definitely deserving of that,” he said.
The Sensory Arts program started three years ago at the behest of the Joseph Lee school’s principal, Kimberly Curtis-Crowley. Hall said the class was formed to focus on providing an outlet for the arts for kids with autism, and help them with coordination and communication skills. Making mosaics taps into both of those goals.
“The beauty of this type of art is they all can do an equal share, regardless of ability levels. We have kids that are very high-functioning, and lower non-verbal students, but every single kid can work on it,” he said. “We aren’t sitting anyone in the corner. It’s really evolved into something that is incredible.”
Since Hall has come to the Dorchester school, his students have created more than 12 murals. Past projects have featured President Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr., Senator Elizabeth Warren, and two murals of former Mayor Tom Menino, one of which is now hanging in City Hall.
This is the second DeGeneres mural that the class has completed. Last year, they put one together and sent it to the show for the host’s birthday after producers put out a call for artwork submissions. But because it didn’t arrive at the studio on time, Hall assumes that’s why it wasn’t featured on air.
This time, Hall and his class are relying on social media to help spread the word, and catch DeGeneres’ attention. They have been sending message through both their Twitter and Facebook accounts.
He said the latest mosaic took about three weeks to finish, worked on by kids from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. The school has 17 classes for students with autism, and Hall teaches one of the specialty classes. He sees all of the students for an hour once a week.
While the students are the ones that ultimately sort and place the tiny pieces of fabrics and tiles to create the mosaics, Hall is the one that sets up the drawings so the projects can get started.
“It takes forever,” he said of the process leading up to the fun part, where the students get to show their skills. “But the end result is so worth it. Some of the kids that aren’t as aware, you can see their eyes lighting up when the mosaics are finished.”
With the DeGeneres mural under their belts, the students have moved on to their next massive art project. For Autism Awareness Month, which spans through the month of April, they are working on their biggest project yet. Hall said a mosaic featuring an autism awareness logo will be the centerpiece at the Intercontinental Hotel on March 30, during the “Light Up the Night” gala.
To think DeGeneres might spot the large mural isn’t far-fetched. The talk-show host has had some significant ties to the Boston area in the last year. She most recently invited a group of Wellesley firefighters that enjoyed Internet fame for saving a dog from the icy Charles River onto her show, and offered them a free cruise trip for their efforts. (Spoiler alert: they couldn’t take the trip.)
DeGeneres’s show also set up a stage in Boston leading up to the World Series at Fenway Park, and gave several students free tickets to catch the historic game, which ended in a championship title for the team.
Hall said that DeGeneres even had a giant mural of Oprah, much like the one the students created, on her show last week, and he is hoping it could be good incentive to get theirs on the air, too.
“When people actually see it, it just blows them away. We just want to show what these kids are capable of doing,” said Hall.