Art by entrepreneurial 12-year-old funds inclusive ideas for people with disability

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Artist. Innovator. Chicken whisperer. Superhero of change. These are just some of the titles on Summer Farrelly’s freshly printed business cards.

The 12-year-old from Bundaberg in Queensland’s Wide Bay region lives on the autism spectrum and works constantly to change the way communities view people with disability.

Summer sees autism as her super power.

“It gives me the ability to think differently. It comes in handy when thinking of my innovative ideas.”

Those ideas started with the creation of a therapeutic chicken program when she was 10 years old.

“Being on the autism spectrum, I find social settings both challenging and confusing,” Summer explained.

“I like to focus on the positive, but it can be hard sometimes, especially with sarcasm or jokes.”

Summer used her chicken flock to help her understand social cues and situations, and cowrote the world’s first ‘Developing Social Skills Program’ for people on the autism spectrum using chickens.

Now, at the age of 12, Summer is using her creative talents to fund projects she is most passionate about: creating inclusive events in the community.

“I want to create opportunities and change mind sets and show my community that everyone has the ability to shine, some of us shine at different angles.”

Using recycled materials (often from her mother’s kitchen), paint and a creative mind, Summer creates artworks of ‘cyborg chickens’.

She uses art as an emotional outlet and to relax, however once the piece is finished, her main goal is to be able to sell it to fund her community projects.

Although her artwork features chickens, it is inspired by people.

“I pick a person, then interpret them through a chicken in my eyes,” Summer said.

A piece of Summer’s art, The Translator, is featuring in EPIC’s upcoming fifth annual art exhibition, Shifting Perspectives.

Painting of two cyborg chickens titled 'The Translator'
‘The Translator’ by Summer Farrelly

Summer created the painting as a gift for Professor Tony Attwood, a clinical psychologist known worldwide for his knowledge of Asperger’s Syndrome.

The painting portrays Professor Atwood on the left, and Summer on the right. The wires and dial connecting them represent Professor Atwood’s ability to decode the Asperger’s brain and translate life into meaning for the Asperger’s individual.

“It’s nice to have someone who understands how and why your brain works the way it does and is able to offer strategies so you can function in everyday life, that most people take for granted,” Summer said.

The upcoming Lighthouse Festival in Bundaberg will feature several of Summer’s inclusive ideas which have been funded by her artworks, as well as donations from the community through her campaigning.

“I want to bring awareness to the idea of sensory friendly events. Everyone has a right to access these events,” Summer said.

The festival will feature a darkened-out marque for those who need to have some quiet time, an inclusive toilet facility, an outdoor loungeroom to encourage conversation, noise cancelling headphones to borrow during the fireworks and a feedback box.

“I hope implementing these inclusive ideas within the Lighthouse Festival will help families and individuals manage challenges faced when assessing social spaces and community events,” Summer said.

The event will also see the official launch of Bags of Inclusion. These sensory bags contain items such as sunglasses, headphones, disinfectant wipes, and a couple of ‘thought blockers’ such as sparkly items or fidget spinners.

“The idea behind the bags is to help people on the autism spectrum stay out for longer and access community spaces and events more often. It’s about providing more opportunities for families to stay out for longer,” Summer explained.

Bags are signed in and out for the duration of an event or activity and will be accessed in various public locations following the festival.

Summer says this year’s art exhibition theme, Shifting Perspectives, is about educating the community that we all have ability.

“People are seeing your art, so you’re being judged on that, as opposed to who you are. It’s a level playing field, not a popularity contest. You are being judged on your skills,” Summer said.

“People often judge what they can’t see or understand. Be kind. Be more accepting of difference.”

To view more of Summer’s inclusion ideas, follow her Facebook page, Chickens 2 Love and other projects.

Shifting Perspectives is open to the public from Wednesday 30 October- Sunday 10 November at Graydon Gallery in New Farm, Brisbane. Visit the gallery in person to view artworks from more than 60 talented artists with disability.

Related articles