Arts Project Australia
Art mediums catered for include painting, drawing, ceramics, printmaking, media arts, photography, and sculpture.
What is the purpose and philosophy of your studio/organisation?
To be a centre of excellence that supports artists with intellectual disabilities, promoting their work and advocating for their inclusion within contemporary art practice. Our studio philosophy is non-directive, and artists are encouraged to explore and develop their own style in a range of media.
When was your studio established and why?
Arts Project was originally founded in 1974 to collect artwork by people with disabilities and exhibit it in a professional manner. In 1982 Cheryl Daye, a fine arts graduate from Philip Institute of Technology (later to become RMIT), was teaching art at Janefield Special School in Melbourne when she was invited to join the Committee. Her experience led her to envisage the scope of Arts Project beyond the collection and exhibition of paintings to the establishment of a studio workshop staffed by practising artists and supplied with artists’ quality materials where people with an intellectual disability could develop their particular talents. She felt it essential that such a studio should not be based within existing institutional settings or dependent upon space being made available by other organisations, but should develop as an independent community-based entity.
What age and range of disability does your studio support?
We support people with intellectual disabilities (although this does not preclude physical disability) from the ages of 17 – 70.
How many participants access your studio and how often?
About 130 artists attend our studio program each week – attendance varies from one day to fulltime, depending on the level of interest of the individual.
What is the entry process for participants to attend your studio?
If there is a place available, and the individual is interested in making art, then they will be given a trial. They must be happy to work within the group environment of the studio.
How is the studio funded?
We receive supported employment funding for 19 artists from the Australian Government department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FAHCSIA) and the rest of our artists are funded through Individual Support Packages through the Victorian Department of Human Services. In reality the government funding just meets our salaries, so we also raise funds through seeking individual and philanthropic funding, state and federal project arts funding, commission on artwork sales (40%), framing and merchandise sales.
What qualities and experience do you seek when engaging arts workers in the studio?
Must be a practising artist who aligns with and supports our non-directive philosophy and keen to work with artists with intellectual disabilities (although disability experience is not a key requisite).
Share a success story from your studio? For example: significant exhibitions, project partnerships, media outcome
We won the Melbourne Award for Contribution to Community in 2011. Arts Project artists have been finalists in the (former) Moet et Chandon Art Prize, the Gold Coast Ceramics Award, the Hobart Art Prize, the Paul Guest Prize and numerous others. Arts Project artists are also regularly invited take part in external group exhibitions and recent exhibitions include: Exhibition #4, Museum of Everything, London; 27th Gold Coast International Ceramic Art Award, Gold Coast; Hobart Art Prize, Hobart; The Shilo Project, Melbourne (went on tour in Australia); BloodLines: Art and the Horse, NSW (went on tour to regional galleries); 17th Annual Outsider Art Fair, New York; and the Pearls of Arts Project Australia – Stuart Purves Collection, Penrith Regional Gallery (and toured the East Coast of Australia). Significant retrospective exhibitions (and accompanying catalogues) have been presented for John Northe, Dorothy Berry, Alan Constable and Valerio Ciccone.
Describe the three most significant challenges that your studio encounters and how you are attempting to address these challenges?
1. Behaviour management
We have 30 – 40 artists in the studio most days with a range of intellectual disabilities, and managing difficult behaviours can be challenging in a group setting. That said we probably experience less bad behaviours than other disability services because individuals are permitted to explore their own style and projects. We work with individual artists / we discuss strategies at daily debrief meetings and when necessary we meet with parents and carers.
2. Getting one on one time with artists/staff artist ratio
In an ideal world our arts workers could spend much more time one-on-one with artists to assist their development – unfortunately, funding demands mean we have an artist/arts worker ratio of between 8:1 and 10:1 for most programs. That’s why volunteers and student placements are important to help provide this assistance. We are at present developing strategies to better meet the needs of individual artists who require a higher level of assistance.
3. Finding time for general studio planning and other tasks
Managing 30-40 artists each day on the floor is action packed and there isn’t a lot of time for a breather. There is also a high level of compliance to be done for disability funding, so planning often takes a back seat. Artsworkers need assistance in planning as it isn’t always their key strength, plus we are trying to make more time available for them during term breaks.
How do you support the professional development/careers of artists from your studio?
Our gallery acts on behalf of all our artists – we enter them in prizes and competitions, all artists are exhibited at least once a year in our own gallery (although for at least 50% of our artists they are exhibited numerous times in different exhibitions each year in our gallery), we actively seek out opportunities for external exhibitions, we engage external curators for some of our own exhibitions. We take part in the Melbourne Art Fair every two years, which generally doubles artwork sales for the year. Artists earn 60% of the total sale price of an artwork, 100% on commissions and reproduction rights. We promote artists and artwork through our website and social media.
What is the future direction of your studio and how do you plan to get there?
We do not see ourselves replicating (i.e. creating similar studios in other locales); but continuing to cement the careers of the artists with us, and perhaps being more proactive in identifying talent. We continue to evaluate the artistic media on offer and need to ensure we are abreast of new techniques and technologies (hence the introduction of our Digital Media Program this year encompassing digital imaging and animation. The younger artists joining us are more demanding and discerning and we must ensure that they are engaged. We tend to make our plans organically for the studio taking into account all factors and circumstances rather than imposing a long term plan.