Feature Issue on Careers in The Arts for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities
i-dArt: I Do Different Art
Art is a barrier-free language. To appreciate aesthetic things and to do creation freely are inborn abilities and rights of human beings. The focus of art appreciation should be on the creators’ abilities and the power given to their works, instead of their intelligence or physical abilities. Holding such beliefs, i-dArt was established in 2010 to focus on inclusive projects and the diverse art development of art lovers with different abilities within our organization or in the community, as well as to provide a platform to learn and exchange in the rehabilitation field.
i-dArt Gallery, Hong Kong.
Empirically, many people with different disabilities have good talents in art. Yet, in Hong Kong, there is not much or even no opportunities for them to receive continuous or comprehensive arts education after their secondary school lives. Hence, it is vital to open up equal opportunities for them to learn and create. Our mission includes providing art training that allows artists to discover and nurture their talents, and to color their lives. The pilot program i-dArt Art Course was launched in 2013 as the first comprehensive and systematic three-year art course for adults with disabilities in Hong Kong. With the aim of widening the horizon of students and their ability to appreciate art, a holistic design was adopted that consisted of both theory teaching and studio practice. Our students were encouraged to explore various art themes, develop their personal styles, and create freely. The curriculum enriches their lives and develops their artistic potential, and some students can become professional artists. Meanwhile, the process of teaching and learning fosters the better understanding of persons with disabilities. Early on, difficulties were faced in adjusting teaching and facilitation approaches to fit the varied needs of students, especially those with significant intellectual disability. Therefore, individualized design and facilitation were also included according to one’s own abilities and characteristics. The facilitation team followed the progress of the students and adjusted the pace as well as the teaching methods to meet their specific needs. This person-centred course won the Award of Arts Education (non-school division) in the Hong Kong Arts Development Awards 2017, organized by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. The next two courses were for art lovers with intellectual disability.
i-dArt Art Course was Hong Kong’s first comprehensive three-year art course for adults with disabilities.
Since then, art lovers in these courses have achieved increases in their self-esteem, self-expression, and self-autonomy as they make and explore art. Their efforts and amazing artworks have gained recognition and affirmation from the public. We believed that art as a medium for people with different abilities enhances mutual appreciation and understanding, so as to promote social inclusion. Thus, exhibitions and performances are held to showcase their artistic creation and share their stories. Two art spaces were set up in the community in 2010 and 2017. Art lovers in neighborhoods are connected through exhibitions, workshops and art events, and visitors were impressed by our artists’ talents. Some of them even discarded their original concept of disability after joining our workshops and seeing our exhibitions. More individuals, organizations and commercial corporates approached us for collaborations. The establishment of the art spaces brought us new exposure for our services and social contributions, and sparked new ideas for what we can do in rehabilitation settings and the local art scene. Also, our artists get opportunities to have their artworks exhibited abroad. It has also greatly encouraged and driven us to strive further and helped us to establish a good reference model in the HK rehabilitation field, as i-dArt originated from a residential and social service setting.
Commissions to artists come mainly from sales and lease of artwork and artwork images in product design. The artists receive a portion of each sale, and the remainder goes toward operating expenses for i-dArt, to provide trainings, materials, exhibitions, and promotion.
We strive to keep learning from all our stakeholders, and in 2019 we played host to a major international conference and public festival that brought together government officials, artists with disabilities, their supporters, and professionals from 10 countries around the world. The International Conference on Art Development for People with Intellectual Disabilities was an extraordinary few days of panels with exceptional displays of art, dance, and music.
The journey of art development with people with disabilities has not been easy. We have gone through different stages and marked important milestones, however, and we feel encouraged by witnessing their empowerment and the ways their lives have been colored by this journey.