Aiming to help normalize the rarely explored topic of girls growing up on the autism spectrum, Baxter St at CCNY will present Galoot, an immersive film and exhibition experience by National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts) alumna Devon Leaver (2011 Winner in Film). In Galoot, Leaver centers her childhood experiences with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD, to provide viewers with a more profound understanding that neurodiversity can be both a challenge and a strength. The exhibition blurs the lines between film and exhibition, breaking the fourth wall to enhance empathy between neurotypical and neurodiverse individuals alike. Galoot represents two distinct firsts for Leaver, her proud and public claim of being part of the ASD community and her New York debut. Galoot is the culmination of Leaver’s participation in YoungArts | Baxter St Residency Program, a multi-year partnership between the two organizations to support, mentor, and diversify the next generation of lens-based artists.
The exhibition explores themes of social isolation, overstimulation, and affirmation through a Bauhaus-inspired, muppet-like character named Galoot featured in a series of vignettes that mirror Leaver’s experiences of trying to fit into a world committed to misunderstanding her. The exhibition replicates the film’s set within an unknown galaxy of stars. It includes a model of the 1977 Voyager probe which doubles as a message box where viewers are encouraged to communicate with Galoot through hand-drawn notes. Galoot’s costume, created by Leaver’s sister Brenna, is featured in the exhibition. It is presented alongside her childhood ephemera including Leaver’s childhood writings that inspired it and the film’s narration, read by Gerard Doyle. Sounds play a vital role in the film and exhibition. Leaver and her partner Xavier De Cardenas’s original musical score amplifies the film’s narration while the cacophony of sounds from the exhibition reflects the sensory sensitivities many people on the spectrum face.
“Devon Leaver’s artistry considers how film can help change the narrative about a community that is often isolated and treated as a monolith to one with a more nuanced message that the spectrum affects everyone differently,” says Baxter St President Michi Jigarjian. “Her powerful film is a testament to the bold range of new voices that the YoungArts | Baxter St Residency program funded by 7G Foundation aims to amplify and support,” says Jil Weinstock, Baxter St’s director.
Conversations about autism often dismiss girls because they are four times less likely to be diagnosed with autism than boys. After years of doctor’s visits, Leaver’s ASD confirmation came as a relief. She viewed it as a way to make sense of the feelings, sensory overload, and experiences she faced throughout her childhood. It is in this place where Galoot finds its inspiration.
“Galoot is inspired by my drawings and dictations from when I was retreating into myself around age four,” says Devon Leaver. “I can personally attest that women on the spectrum are often misdiagnosed and misrepresented. Through Galoot, I hope to illuminate a different side of the autism spectrum while encouraging empathy and understanding in viewers and promoting a more inclusive community.”
Galoot resonates especially now during our time in quarantine. It evokes feelings of loss, social isolation, an inability to predict what’s to come, and how these factors, whether on the spectrum or not, affect us. It is a tender tale of self-discovery, finding community, and that what makes you different makes you unique. It depicts intimacy through movement and seeks connection with faceless characters that celebrate difference and expression. Leaver’s exhibition is a meditation on how film can create a visual language and how imaginary worlds could give a sense of community, hope, and solace. As the second resident of the Young Arts | Baxter St Residency Program, Leaver’s Galoot is a sign of the breadth and depth of projects to come.
Devon Leaver’s films have appeared in the Sundance Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival, Take 2 Film Festival, Lone Star Film Festival, Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, HBO, the Pollock Krasner House, and the Louis Armstrong House Museum. With her creative partner, Chloé Aktas, Devon co-wrote/produced an interactive film, Uncoupled, for Adaptive Studios and Eko, which was sponsored by Warner Music Group. Devon is also a session vocalist and voice actor. She has provided the voiceover for Major League Gaming and Activision Blizzard Entertainment Inc., McKinsey & Company, Class Solver, Crucial Music, and several independent audio dramas. She was both executive producer and voice actor for Vimeo Staff Pick Lance (in a Neckbrace), which premiered on day 1 of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. She was nominated for the 2019 Audioverse awards for her role in the Still Lives radio drama (sponsored by Tapeable) and regularly enjoys breaking traditional storytelling boundaries.
Established as the YoungArts | Baxter St Residency Program, Baxter St invites emerging lens-based YoungArts award winners living in New York City to apply. The residency, funded by the 7G Foundation, provides two months of workspace access at Baxter St, one month of access to darkrooms at the International Center of Photography, an artist stipend of $2,000 for production costs, and mentoring sessions with 2-3 Art Advisory Committee members. The residency will culminate in a two-week solo show at Baxter St.
As a resident in this program, artists will gain hands-on experience, be counseled and supported by specialists in their field of study, and work closely with Baxter St in order to present a solo show, which for most residents will be their first exhibition. For further information about the residency program, please write to us at email@example.com or call 212.260.9927.
National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts) was established in 1981 by Lin and Ted Arison. YoungArts identifies the most accomplished young artists in the visual, literary and performing arts, and provides them with creative and professional development opportunities throughout their careers.
Entrance into this prestigious organization starts with a highly competitive application process for talented artists ages 15–18, or grades 10-12, in the United States, that is judged by esteemed discipline-specific panels of artists through a rigorous blind adjudication process. In their first year, YoungArts winners, who represent the top 10% of applicants, receive valuable financial awards of up to $10,000; presentation opportunities at renowned institutions; and the chance to learn from notable artists and mentors such as Debbie Allen, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Frank Gehry, Wynton Marsalis, Salman Rushdie and Mickalene Thomas in intimate settings.
YoungArts winners are further eligible for exclusive opportunities including: nomination as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students; a wide range of fellowships, residencies and awards; presentation opportunities at major venues nationwide; additional financial support; and access to YoungArts Post, a free, private digital network for YoungArts artists to connect, collaborate and learn about additional opportunities. YoungArts alumni include accomplished leaders in their fields such as Daniel Arsham, Terence Blanchard, Camille A. Brown, Viola Davis, Allegra Goodman, Josh Groban, Judith Hill, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Andrew Rannells, Desmond Richardson and Hunter Schafer.