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This Lehigh Valley auto shop doubles as an art gallery -- with some heavy subject matter

NORTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. - Art and auto repair sound like an unlikely pair, but that’s the concept behind a gallery in the Lehigh Valley. The latest show in the space is centered around mental health.

"We tie the two together because cars are art, so we really wanted to bring a unique experience to the community and merge the two,” said Nina Boodhansingh, Midnight Gallery co-owner and curator.

Midnight Gallery is located on Independence Drive in Schnecksville, but it’s not easily spotted from the outside. That’s because it’s set up in the showroom of Vollux Autowerks, a European car repair and diagnostics shop owned by Chris Birgl.

"We had to decide something to do with the space and that's kind of where the art gallery came from. Tall ceilings and a really white, bright-colored showroom. We had the idea that art would be a great way to cover the space,” said Birgl, who now co-owns the gallery with Boodhansingh.

"When people actually come in and walk in and even if they saw pictures, I want them to just say 'wow.'"
Chris Birgl, owner, Vollux Autowerks

"The thing I kept saying is when people actually come in and walk in and even if they saw pictures, I want them to just say 'Wow,'" said Birgl, of Kempton, Berks County. "It’s very simple, it's just one word, but that is kind of what I envisioned and it happened to be literally the same word that people use when they walk in."

The latest exhibit aims to have visitors saying more than just "Wow," Boodhansingh said. It’s meant to be a conversation starter. The exhibit called “Resilience: Expressions Of The Mind” is centered all around mental health and disabilities.

“Everyone who had applied to the show and was selected for the show, all their work is based either on mental health or disability, whether it's through their own personal experience, or their experience with maybe a family member, or a partner, or colleagues,” she explained. “It's not talked about enough.”

Boodhansingh said she grew up with her own mental health struggles and through this show, she wants to show others with disabilities they are not alone.

“Growing up I had suffered with trichotillomania, which is a hair-pulling disorder, which can lead to anxiety, depression and I had struggled with that over the years,” she said.

“I really wanted to kind of bring the mental health and disabilities to light because so many people either sweep it under the rug, they don't talk about it, they're afraid to talk about it, and we want everyone to feel comfortable talking to each other, making connections so that they feel heard and are seen,” she said.

Boodhansingh and her co-curator, Elise Schaffer, are among the 22 artists whose work decorates the showroom walls. The artists selected for the show were asked to submit a summary of what mental health means to them.

“This show is very moving, especially if you take time to really look at the pieces, and see, kind of almost break them down and see what's inside,” said Boodhansingh, an Allentown native.

"They tell stories, and they tell stories of our struggles. They tell stories of maybe our childhood or adulthood, family life, our children, so I think this is really strong and powerful."

A public opening reception will be held with artists and mental health resources on site. The public event is this Saturday, March 23, from 2-4 p.m. A portion of the proceeds will go to Valley Youth House of the Lehigh Valley.

The show is open in the gallery on Independence Drive through May 10.