F&M Stories

Meet the Students of F&M’s First Neurodivergent Art Exhibit

Franklin & Marshall junior Josh Kulak has always been drawn to the parallels between animal and human experience.

That exact sentiment brought him to F&M.

“It was clear to me that F&M was an environment that would support the interdisciplinary chaos that I wanted to cause,” said Kulak, an animal behavior major with a keen interest in human rights. 

“This semester, I literally walk from a 25-person class with one of the foremost scholars on animal welfare, to an eight-person class with the founder of the F&M Global LGBTQ Rights Barometer. You can't get that in other places,” said Kulak.

Kulak is one of seven students featured in the Phillips Museum of Art exhibit, “Spectra: Exploring Neurodiverse Art in Franklin & Marshall College.” The exhibition celebrates the artwork of students on campus who identify as neurodivergent. 

Today, the term “neurodivergent” is commonly used as an identifier for people whose brain works in ways traditionally considered atypical. Neurodiversity can include psychiatric conditions, learning disabilities and other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder and Tourette syndrome.

“It was clear to me that F&M was an environment that would support the interdisciplinary chaos that I wanted to cause.”

— Josh Kulak ’25

The road to a late autism diagnosis in 2023 was not easy for Kulak, but “I have been really well supported by SAS [The Office of Student Accessibility Services] and professors,” he said. 

“I understand things somewhat differently from a great number of people,” Kulak added. 

That understanding helps Kulak excel as an entomologist. In addition to his studies at F&M, Kulak volunteers with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and the North Museum of Lancaster.

Kulak’s Spectra exhibit – a dazzling display of pinned beetles ethically sourced from museum suppliers – blends scientific aspects (data labels, pins, archival storage) with aesthetic arrangement in the interest of two simple goals: to highlight diversity and foster empathy.

“The driving philosophy of all that I do is that diversity is beautiful, whether biological, neurological or ideological,” Kulak said. “By challenging existing perceptions in the world of insects, it is possible to inspire a kind of empathy that goes far beyond them. If one learns to appreciate even the smallest creatures as beautiful, then one’s entire view of the world shifts.”

The Phillips Museum of Art invites the campus community to attend a Feb. 15 reception celebrating “Spectra: Exploring Neurodiverse Art at F&M,” 4:30-5:30 p.m. Light refreshments will be provided. 

In collaboration with Museum staff, The Office of Student Accessibility Services (SAS), the Learning Support Specialist, Deaf and Disabled Student Union (DDSU) and Active Minds helped advise student artists and organize the exhibition and related programming.

"Diversity is beautiful, whether biological, neurological or ideological."

Josh Kulak ’25

Below, learn more about the student artists of Spectra.

 

Anna Waldstein-Torres ’24
Anna Waldstein-Torres ’24
  • Major: Technical theatre

  • Minor: Women's, gender and sexuality studies

  • Hometown: Catonsville, Md.

  • Medium: Photography

Artist statement: “My work is inspired by my experiences of fixation and interest in my youth, and how these passions follow me into adulthood… The peers captured in [this image] are the brightest lights in my life, the most colorful souls.”

Makayla Gayden
Makayla Gayden ’24
  • Major: English (creative writing)

  • Minor: Africana studies

  • Hometown: Franklin Park, N.J.

  • Medium: Pigma ink on paper

Artist statement: “I became interested in stippling in high school when I was doodling in art class. My teacher complimented my work and told me this was called pointillism; I was amazed at how people could create light and shadow just using one pen and tons of dots.”

Brandon Webb
Brandon Webb ’25
  • Major: Film and media studies

  • Hometown: Miramar, Fla.

  • Medium: Photography

Artist statement: “My journey as a photographer has been woven with the intricate tapestry of identity, and my personal struggle with ADHD has been a significant thread in this narrative. My lens has become more than a mere tool for capturing images; it’s a medium for me to navigate the multifaceted aspects of who I am.” 

Ellie Chiaradonna ’26
Ellie Chiaradonna ’26
  • Major: Business, organizations and society

  • Minor: Sociology 

  • Hometown: Ambler, Pa. 

  • Medium: Oil paint and collage on canvas

Artist statement: “As a young girl with dyslexia, I had little confidence in myself… From a young age, I used art to express myself and provide myself with comfort and a release of worry. I’ve learned to use my art to convey powerful messages that I feel my words may be unable to form.”

Yingtong (Viola) Yao ’24
Yingtong (Viola) Yao ’24
  • Major: Art history

  • Medium: Photography, film 

Artist statement: “Consciousness is like a stream. It may follow a flower, a dead tree, a tear or a smile, then flow to a star… Stories are unique and so is consciousness. I want all of these photographs to inspire the viewer to tap into an underlying sense of self.” 

 Serena Almy ’24
Serena Almy ’24
  • Major: Astrophysics

  • Minor: Art studio

  • Medium: Screenprint

Artist statement: “I resonate with [screenprinting] because of the assembly line nature of the process and how it allows me to experiment with graphic design elements.”

 
Josh Kulak beetle display

 

Josh Kulak ’25
  • Major: Animal behavior 

  • Hometown: Philadelphia 

  • Medium: Entomological pins in Cornell drawer 

Artist statement: “I have always considered myself as a scientist before an artist, but in the preservation of these simultaneously reviled and breathtakingly beautiful life forms, I am forced to question that definition.” 

 
 
 

 

 

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