Autistic artist creates mural for St. Paul’s Creative Arts Zone

The intersection of University Avenue and Vandalia is a place where multiple worlds collide.The pull of noisy truck traffic rolls alongside the push of zooming light rail cars. 

On one side of the street you can pour a Guinness at the Dubliner Pub and contemplate the world, and on the other side interpret the heavens.

"This is the cosmic, high dimensional and higher-class origins of how I see the cosmos," explains Michael Engebretson as he carefully applies fine brush strokes of black paint to a lime green canvas that is a giant garage door. "It took me hours to paint this."

The geometrical designs on the field of green tells multiple stories, but none more important than the importance of people’s abilities.

"The reason why I want to tell the story is to allow people to understand what it’s like to have autism, or disabilities and mare sure they’re celebrated in a way that makes everybody have unity," said Engebretson.

He uses his own autism to advocate for others who have disabilities. His new mural is his biggest canvas yet, and part of the Croma Zone Art Festival.  The festival is meant to highlight and connect what has become known as the Creative Enterprise Zone along University Avenue in St. Paul.

"So we think Michael’s mural puts us probably over 50 murals since we started," said Angela Casselton of the Creative Enterprise Zone. "He’s one of eight muralists painting this summer and we will have three days of celebration in September on the 14th,15th, and 16th."

Engebretson has been working on his art for years through Interact Gallery, which uses art and artists to challenge the perceptions those living with disabilities.

"He often says that his autism is a gift," said Brittany Kieler, the director of Interact.  "And I think that’s so important for anyone to hear.

Engebretson has been a featured artists at Interact where his creations of the cosmos hang in the gallery.

"He’s so empowered, he’s using his confidence and artistic talent to kind of have this larger message of his work," said Kieler.

On his mural he’s painted multiple images to explain what he sees in the universe.

"This one is a cosmic industrial duty, armored multipurpose module carrier ship," said Engebretson as he gave clarity to the images on the garage door.

It’s a vision that for some, like Presley Martin riding by on his bike is plain to see.

"I think it’s really inspiring," said Martin to Engebretson. "Thank you for the work that you do."

The mural is a celebration of not just unity in the neighborhood, but also a celebration of ability. "It was a joy to paint," said Engebretson. "I’m definitely proud of it."