By Wendy Widom
CHICAGO (CBS) — Tucked away in a tiny Illinois town is a unique art gallery.
“We are in Merchant Street Art Gallery in downtown Kankakee, Illinois,” says Executive Director of the gallery, Janice Miller. “We’re one of only three art galleries in the whole United States that feature only people with autism.”
Julia Mohler, 20, of Kankakee exhibits her work at Merchant Street Art Gallery. “Janice chose me to be in one of the galler[ies], to inspire the first opening of the art show,” she said. “And I started displaying artwork.”
Drew Carriker, 24, also of Kankakee, finds that art is a form of self-expression. “What I love about art is I can make anything that I have in mind,” he says. Carriker appreciates the gallery because, according to him, “I can show what I can do.”
Miller says visitors are surprised by the quality of the art. “The bureau came here the other day with all of the executives from all the nonprofits in the area and they walked out saying, ‘Wow, we had no idea that the quality of art would be at this level. It can compete with any art gallery in this region,’” she tells CBS 2.
The artists have become a community and work on projects together. Miller says this helps them develop collaborative skills.
Artists sell their art through the gallery. Jenna Varley of Kankakee, who is 24, sold a piece the first day it was exhibited. 22-year-old Andrew Carroll, from Bourbonnais, quickly found a new home for one of his photographs.
Visitors can pick up specialty items in the gallery’s gift shop.
“I think of it like a paradise. I think my dreams will come true,” says Mohler about the gallery, “Like seeing everybody’s faces smile and happy and it can inspire other people.”