The international exhibition brought together work from 50 artists working in supported studios – settings that enable the professional development of an arts practice for artists who have historically been denied the means to express themselves creatively due to limited expectations of them or physical lack of access to resources.
The Department of Arts in Health & Community Practice in CIT CCAD had been facilitating an ongoing, shared studio experience between students of the department and artists from a supported studio setting.
Through synchronicity, and a desire to push the boundaries what started as a small exhibition expanded across three venues – Crawford Art Gallery, the City Hall Atrium and CIT Wandsford Quay – and the small group of artists grew to 50 artists.
Exhibiting artists were no longer from “just up the road”, but hailed from as far away as San Francisco, New York, Amsterdam and Brighton, to closer to home in Kilkenny, Youghal and Cork.
The majority of the exhibiting artists had intellectual disabilities and some had mental health issues. All had an experience of the world unique to them, and art-making allowed them to explore their ideas, interests and experiences beyond the limitation of words, and was sometimes their only means of expressing their experience.
The work in this exhibition, as with any exhibition, allowed the viewer the chance to see the world through the artists’ eyes. Although the exhibiting artists worked outside the conventional art world, their work attracted the highest public footfall in years.
Through an extensive education programme, the exhibition also offered the public and schools the opportunity to meet and engage with many of the artists – through workshops, gallery tours and “meet the artist” events.
Inclusion to citizenship
Though inclusion was an initial objective of the project, it became apparent that the real intent was not to include for inclusion’s sake, but to include because this work (and the artists making it) makes a valuable contribution to society.
Many individuals with intellectual disabilities or mental health issues have been excluded or kept at the margins of society.
Engaging in art, and developing an arts practice provides a means to engage with the world, connecting individuals with their own language and what they have to say.
It gives them a voice to participate and individuals who have long been sidelined and excluded can engage with and contribute to society with their own unique voice.
Their work broadens the range of voices, visions, perceptions and approaches to creativity that the public engages with in cultural venues.
Through it we can engage with valuable knowledge and perspectives that are frequently absent from the world of art.
Building on the very positive collaborative relationship and the ideas and questions raised by the 2013 exhibition, preparations for Perceptions 2016: the Art of Citizenship are well underway. Hundreds of pieces of art have again been submitted from artists in supported studios around the globe to be considered for this follow-up exhibition.
Opening in September, the exhibition aims to explore our common ground as artists and offer a new, and (we believe) culturally richer perception of citizenship.
2016 may be a time to remember the past in Ireland, but it is also an opportunity to re-imagine the future and to expand our perceptions of future possibilities for a brighter more equal society.
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