The Sandy Lush Project presents work by young autistic artists

For children on the autism spectrum, self-expression isn’t always easy—which is why art programming can be so important. “There are no rules in art,” says Sandy Hernandez, co-creator of the Sandy Lush Project, a new autism awareness and fund-raising org. “They can just be free to express themselves however they feel.” 

This Friday, Hernandez (who goes by Sandy Cakes) and her Sandy Lush Project partner Brandon Garcia invite guests to the first-annual “Autism—Express Yourself!” exhibit. Partnering with and also benefitting LEEP Beyond, a Chicago-based non-profit dedicated to providing programming for special needs children, the exhibit features paintings on canvas, clay sculptures and photography by sixteen autistic child artists. The Sandy Lush Project helps raise awareness for autism through fun events, all while empowering the community it serves. “[Friday’s show is] about them, and they’re the ones raising funds for themselves,” Hernandez says. 

The Project began just months ago with a toy drive. Since then, “from one little thing it just blew up into a bunch of events and now we help out more kids,” Hernandez says. Smaller-scale activities ballooned into dreams of bilingual art, photography and music classes that would help non-English speakers with autism to communicate more easily. 

Performances by two bands, Confusion and Estrella Negra, along with DJ Rebel X and poet Nora Leon, add music and words to the artistic environment. Sales from photos on display from LNP Photography also benefit the cause. A $5 donation earns guests food and refreshments; past 9:30pm, $35 buys a three-hour open-bar bracelet (so long as you’re 21+). 

LEEP Beyond shares a similar mission with Sandy Lush, offering children: classes in art, music, science, gymnastics and yoga, as well as a chance to communicate nonverbally in a less structured environment (Read our story on the new organization). “It’s not something they have to write,” Hernandez says. “They might not be able to talk, but they can sing.” In the future, Hernandez hopes to continue to spread understanding through events big and small, like a cupcake decorating class which pairs special needs children with other children. Learn more about this Friday’s exhibit/benefit here

Autism—Express Yourself! will be held at Wise Fools Pub, 2270 N Lincoln Ave (773-525-5401, from 6:30pm–1:30am. Tickets are $5, but $35 open-bar bracelets will be available beginning at 9:30pm.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)