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Joe and Evelyn Santos couldn’t hold back their tears when they saw their son Matthew, who is on the autism spectrum, be recognized for his work at the city of Santa Clarita’s Youth Arts Showcase on Saturday at the Newhall Community Center.  

Matthew won second place in the high school division art competition held at the event. As Evelyn watched her son be interviewed by the media, she said through his artwork, his true self emerges.  

“Just seeing him flourish with art has been just such a wonderful experience,” said Evelyn. “He really is able to just create such beautiful things. Sometimes, communicating is a little bit difficult. However, it comes out through his artwork. It’s just a place where he can relax and just be creative.” 

Marek, 2, left, and brother Leo Cohen, 4, get instruction during a dance lesson by members of the Star Dance Center during the City of Santa Clarita Arts Showcase held at the Newhall Community Center in Newhall on Saturday, 032523. Dan Watson/The Signal

Matthew painted a very realistic-looking image of snow-capped mountains behind a flowered meadow that led to a forest. Matthew said the image wasn’t inspired by the sight residents see today, following an unusually precipitous winter, but came purely out of his imagination during last year’s drought.  

“I just thought it might be cool to paint this, just out of the blue, and I did, it was just in my head,” said Matthew, who described the experience of winning an award as a surprise. “It feels great. I thought maybe my parents would like what I did. I didn’t know everyone would like it this much.” 

As for the work’s true inspiration, Matthew said it was the way his mind works that made it happen.  

“I do have autism and I’m very creative, and that’s what made me create that,” said Matthew.  

Photo courtesy of Matthew Santos

Matthew’s father expressed a great deal of pride in his son.  

“I could not be more proud and to really see how far he’s come over all these years and how art really has made such an impact in his life… You know, being on the autism spectrum. Initially, my wife and I really understood more and more about what it meant to have autism, but just watching the incredible joy in the way that he’s able to communicate through his art has been just amazing,” said Joe.  

The art show and competition featured works from local students across all grades. The entire event was designed to showcase a variety of arts — music was provided by the Sulphur Springs Union School District Chorus, Castaic Union School District Chorus, Innovation Show Chorus, Vibe Performing Arts Teen Band, the Include Everyone Project and the Santa Clarita Valley Youth Orchestra.  

Activities included varied outlets for kids to craft things — chalk painting, coloring, face painting, pencil and pastel painting, and much more.  

The first place artwork by Malin Rodriguez entitled “I See You” on display during the City of Santa Clarita Arts Showcase held at the Newhall Community Center in Newhall on Saturday, 032523. Dan Watson/The Signal

Casey Miller, organizer of the event, said it was part of National Youth Art Month and that engaging art is crucial for advancing a child’s education.  

“Arts are so important for child enrichment, and I think that it’s a great way for kids to express their creativity in multiple different ways — from music, to dance, to art, and I think the city values that and that’s why this event is so important,” said Miller.  

The fact that the city of Santa Clarita gives these types of opportunities to local youth, is something that Joe really appreciated.  

“The city giving opportunities to all of our kids, not just those with special needs, but all of our kids, really is just a reason why we live in Santa Clarita,” said Joe. “Truthfully,  there’s so many wonderful resources out here and ways to help our kids really excel, which has been extraordinary.”