Merchant Street Art Gallery seeks artists and actors for upcoming Halloween-themed presentation

September 12, 2018

The Merchant Street Art Gallery of Artists with Autism is seeking participants of all ages to either create art or act in small roles for their upcoming presentation, “The Curse of the Black Phone,” which will occur over four days in the weekends preceding Halloween.

The presentation is somewhat hard to define, explained Dawn Wolfe, who has worked with children with disabilities for more than 10 years and received a master’s degree in art therapy and counseling from Adler University in Chicago.

The gallery is trying to decide how exactly to categorize “The Curse of the Black Phone,” Wolfe said. “It’s kind of like an escape room but they don’t have to ‘escape.’ It’s kind of like a mystery dinner party.”

Essentially, it’s a mystery written for the the gallery audience to uncover, using clues hidden within the art pieces. While viewing the artwork, audience members will be invited to uncover the mystery and lift “the curse of the black phone” that haunts the gallery every Halloween season.

“The Curse of the Black Phone” was written entirely by art gallery member Julia Knitter, 16, of Bourbonnais. In Knitter’s fictional story, a phone operator named Mirriam Sorrell mysteriously disappeared Oct. 13 1944. Years later, there is still mystery surrounding her death and what became of those who knew her.

The story is inspired by the telephone company that originally occupied the gallery’s building and a paranormal game Knitter found online called the “the black phone game.” When creating the story’s creepy moods and macabre undertones, Knitter also was inspired by the Netflix series “Stranger Things” and the novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and its film adaptation.

To complete the “Curse,” Knitter’s story is accompanied by art pieces made by artists with autism. Currently, nine artists ages 17 to 38 have contributed works created under common “creepy” or “unsettling” themes, featuring subject matters such as monsters, vampires, haunted houses and, of course, black phones.

The goal for the “Black Phone” is to cover nearly the entire gallery space with spooky artwork created solely by artists with autism. To meet this goal, the gallery is seeking artwork submissions from community members of all ages with autism.

They will accept two-dimensional artwork of all forms, including photography, paintings, drawings and blackout poetry, as well as three-dimensional art creations made from products such as clay.

Artists with autism seeking to become involved with the planning of the presentation, which includes creating artwork and assembling it throughout the gallery, can attend the planning meetings held at the gallery at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 18 and 24 and Oct. 2 and 12.

The gallery members also are in search of volunteers to act during the presentation of the mystery. They are seeking anyone willing to participate, regardless of whether or not they are on the autism spectrum. The volunteer roles do not necessarily require an acting background, but they do ask that participants be willing and excited to help out the gallery.

The presentation of “The Curse of the Black Phone” will take place at the gallery, at 356 E. Merchant St. in Kankakee, at 7:30 p.m. and again at 8 p.m. Oct. 19, 20, 26 and 27.

If you or someone you know would like to submit artwork for the gallery or sign up to volunteer for the presentation, contact event coordinator Dawn Wolfe at dawn.wolfe65@gmail.com or 815-474-4265. You also can contact Janice Miller, the gallery director, at jmiller_etc@yahoo.com or 815-685-9057.

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