The Virginia Institute of Autism will soon have a greenhouse to kickstart our adult clients’ first micro-enterprise, thanks to a Public Arts project hosted by The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative.
“This is a way to start the discussion about providing employment for adults with autism,” said VIA’s Director of Adult Services, Matthew Osborne. “With the economy suffering, one statistic that’s hidden is the unemployment rate for adults with autism, which is as high as 90%. Half of the remaining 10% are under-employed.”
The Bridge has invited Habitat for Artists, an artist-run group that strives to spark community-wide conversations through art, to build a Habitat City in Charlottesville. The organization’s trademark is a small 6×6 temporary and reusable structure, that invites the community in to explore an artist’s work. The 6×6 creations of Charlottesville non-profits, artists and businesses will line West Main Street in April. Among them will be VIA’s greenhouse.
The Bridge connected VIA with Alloy Workshop, an architecture, construction and graphic design studio, to design the portable, transformable 6×6 space where our adults students will learn about small-scale farming.
Alloy carefully designed the 6×6 greenhouse to make the most of the space. A large roof will provide shelter and funnel rain water into a rain barrel, used for watering plants. Shelves will be durable and adjustable to accommodate different species of plants. Tables will fold out on the outside of the structure to allow plenty of room to work. A ramp will ensure the greenhouse is accessible to all students.
Alloy’s design team was mindful of our students when they designed the greenhouse, tailoring it to our clients’ needs and adding symbols to raise awareness about autism.
Reclaimed windows will be inexpensive and effective walls for the greenhouse, and Alloy designed them to remind viewers of the puzzle piece symbol, which reflects the complexity of autism spectrum disorders.
The wall panels will open up and create space for clients, instructors and members of the community to work together. When the structure makes its appearance on Main Street, passersby will be invited in to the structure to interact with our gardeners.
“This is a chance to change the conversation about autism in our community,” said Osborne. “This project will highlight the talents and skills of our adults with autism. We’re excited to show the community that our students’ differences make them special, unique and worth getting to know.”
When the greenhouse finishes its time in the spotlight on Main Street, it will move to its permanent home here at VIA. But that’s only the beginning of the greenhouse’s place in the community.
VIA’s Adult Services team plans to build a micro-enterprise around the greenhouse. Adult clients will grow spices and herbs to sell to Charlottesville area restaurants, giving them an opportunity to work and to connect with the broader community.
“This meaningful work can help them learn money management, communication and responsibility, with the potential to develop life-long relationships with people in the Charlottesville community,” said Osborne.
Osborne says he hopes the program will continue to grow and make a dent in the unemployment rate for adults with autism in Charlottesville.
“We have to move slowly and strategically to create a sustainable model,” said Osborne. “We’re looking to develop strategic partnerships with restaurants and businesses to ensure that we’ll have customers well beyond when we grow out of our 6×6 greenhouse.”
Update: VIA’s greenhouse is up and running! Take a virtual tour!