MIND Institute dedicates Peace Pole, a community art piece celebrating neurodiversity

(SACRAMENTO)

The UC Davis MIND Institute has installed a new public art piece inside its lobby: a brightly colored, 9-foot-tall Peace Pole. The pole was hand-painted by people of all ages throughout the MIND Institute community.  

The structure is a celebration of neurodiversity, the idea that people experience the world differently and that neurological differences are not deficits. This term is often used when describing autism, ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disabilities.

A group of 8 people – young men and women and teens – gather around a colorful pole which is laying on a table. Some paint on the pole, others dip brushes in paint on plates, others talk.
More than 100 MIND Institute faculty, staff, trainees and community members designed and painted the Peace Pole in painting sessions like this one.

“The project is conveying issues of inclusion, respect and the value of all people to the broader community,” explained MIND Institute Director Leonard Abbeduto. “It’s really about valuing and respecting people because of their differences, not despite their differences.”

The pole also represents the ongoing evolution of the concept of neurodiversity.

“The message of this Peace Pole represents a continuing evolution of what language we are using and how communities are representing themselves,” said Megan Tudor, a licensed psychologist at the MIND Institute and assistant professor of pediatrics who helped organize the project.

Leonard Abbeduto
The project is conveying issues of inclusion, respect and the value of all people to the broader community. It’s really about valuing and respecting people because of their differences, not despite their differences.”Leonard Abbeduto, MIND Institute director

A celebration of neurodiversity

The project is a collaboration between the MIND Institute, the nonprofit organization Chill Sacramento and community members who helped to paint the pole. Over the summer, more than 100 individuals of all ages gathered at the MIND Institute to design and paint the Peace Pole. The finished pole is a rainbow of colors and includes flowers, butterflies, animals and phrases like “autism strengths,” “respect self-agency,” and “inclusion.”

A teenage girl with brown curly hair wearing a light purple shirt with a yin and yang design stands painting an item she holds in her hand.
Emery Gilbert was one of the dozens of people who helped to design and paint the peace pole.

“It helps symbolize neurodiversity and makes me feel like I have people supportive of me, being a neurodiverse person,” said Emery Gilbert, a teen who attended a Peace Pole painting session at the MIND Institute. “I hope it’ll show kids who are neurodiverse and feel like they don’t have any support that they’re not alone.”

Emery, who also attends the MIND Institute’s NeuroTeens social group, painted a blue, green and purple butterfly for the pole.

“The symbols will help kids … feel more confident about being who they are and not being like everybody else. Kids will read it and feel like, ‘Wow, they really get me,’” she said.

What is a Peace Pole?

A Peace Pole is a community-driven art project that aims to communicate messages through images and words. According to Chill Sacramento, "Peace Poles are monuments to peace and understanding in our communities and there are hundreds of thousands of unique monuments to peace and understanding throughout the world."  

Megan Tudor
The message of this Peace Pole represents a continuing evolution of what language we are using and how communities are representing themselves.” Megan Tudor, assistant professor of pediatrics

The MIND Institute’s Peace Pole is stationed on the right-hand side of the lobby. It includes a plaque explaining the purpose of the pole, that reads in part, “The imagery and language featured here express the uniqueness and joy of our neurodiverse world. Through this celebration of color, texture and creativity, these artists welcome all who enter the MIND Institute.” The message is also printed in Braille. Visitors are encouraged to touch the pole to experience the textures, as well.

“Art is a form of expression that is separate from the bounds of language by itself. It connects all different people – people who have different life experiences, different communities,” Tudor said. “It allows us to envision not just how we want things to be but also how things are and how things might change in the future. There’s a lot of power … in bringing people together to make art together and then having that on display for everyone who comes in the building.”

Close-up section of a colorful “Peace Pole” with the words “Autism Strengths” outlined and a woman’s hand starting to paint in white.
The Peace Pole features phrases such as “Autism Strengths” and words like “Inclusion.”

The Peace Pole was officially dedicated in a ceremony Oct. 25 at the MIND Institute. The event included MIND Institute faculty and staff, community members and artists who helped to design and paint the pole.

“The Peace Pole has been a very meaningful collaboration with our community,” said MIND Institute Chief Administrative Officer Michele Ono, who helped to plan the project. “It’s been gratifying that so many people have embraced it, giving of their time and talents to help create this beautiful symbol of inclusivity.”

The UC Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento, Calif. was founded in 1998 as a unique interdisciplinary research center where families, community leaders, researchers, clinicians and volunteers work together toward a common goal: researching causes, treatments and potential prevention of challenges associated with neurodevelopmental disabilities. The institute has major research efforts in autism, fragile X syndrome, chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Down syndrome. More information about the institute and its Distinguished Lecturer Series, including previous presentations in this series, is available on the Web at mindinstitute.ucdavis.edu.