A work of art for autism

One of the two murals painted by RIC art club students that will be installed in the Trudeau Center’s new Pathways Strategic Learning Center in Coventry opening in July.

One of the two murals painted by RIC art club students that will be installed in the Trudeau Center’s new Pathways Strategic Learning Center in Coventry opening in July.

Tiffany Cabral, president of RIC’s student art club, paints a portion of the mural that will hang in the foyer of the new Pathways Strategic Learning Center dedicated to serving children with autism and related disorders.
“I always wanted to do something for the community and it’s happening,” said Tiffany Cabral, a Rhode Island College junior and president of the college’s student art club.

Cabral was referring to the two, large-scale murals to promote autism awareness that the art club was commissioned to paint for the J. Arthur Trudeau Memorial Center’s new Pathways Strategic Learning Center in Coventry, that services children with autism and related disorders, scheduled to open in July.

The Trudeau Center has been a state landmark since the 1960s when Arthur and Evelyn Trudeau founded the center and developed educational, vocational and training services for people with developmental disabilities to help involve them in the community.

The students worked with the Trudeau staff to formulate a mural design that would implement the center’s theme of Improving Lives-Promoting Independence.

The murals are each 6 feet by 10 feet and will hang in the foyer of the new facility.

The scenes depict change and growth through the learning process, which inevitably leads to confidence, said Ben Rittman, vice president of the art club.

One of the mural panels shows people of varying ages and races smiling and walking in the same direction through a stream of sunlight, as if they are headed toward a common goal. The other mural shows people standing straight and strong in a storm-like setting, persevering through harsh conditions.

“It’s the ying and yang of life,” Cabral said.

Art student Ben Rittman adds a personal touch to the corner of the mural.
For Rittman, the scenes are more personal.

Rittman has Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism, categorized as a developmental disorder that affects a person's ability to socialize and effectively communicate with others.

While Rittman was a student at CCRI, Professor Nancy Wylie produced a documentary about him that caught the attention of the Trudeau Center staff. They thought Rittman was well adjusted in dealing with his disorder and saw him as a potential role model for the center.

But Rittman, who had since transferred into RIC’s art program, preferred to take his abilities to the canvas and formulated the ideas for the murals before enlisting the aid of the art club.

“Ben is an example of the mural,” because he promotes independence, Cabral said.

Rittman likes the idea of the students coming together and using their skills to help the center. “The people who they help hits home,” he said.

Dan Moriarty ’75, coordinator for education and training at Trudeau Center, agrees that the connection between the Pathways program at the new school and the art students is helping to expose college students to the special needs that some students may have.

“We’re blending several disciplines together through the creativity of a number of students,” Moriarty said.

Though it was the first time the group took on such a large project, the students’ enthusiasm for the paintings was evident as they handled everything from preparing a budget to the choice of paint. Some of the non-art majors needed guidance, Cabral said, but that gave them extra incentive to collaborate.

The students are working on the mural panels at the college’s art center. Given the current level of progress, Cabral is optimistic that they will be ready for the opening. She said she is already experiencing a sense of “relief and accomplishment” about the project.

“It’s really fulfilling to paint for a cause,” Cabral said. “It feels good.”