How Art Can Bring People Together
Interview with Owen Richards and Josh Downey
Earlier this year, Owen Richards, Grade 12, and Josh Downey, a former ISB student, came up with an idea to create art with some of ISB's intensive needs students and to display it on a virtual art exhibit. The duo have worked hard to bring this to life, delighting the students whose art they have displayed. We spoke with Owen and Josh on their venture; what inspired them, what their goals are and what their future plans might be.
What inspired you to create Atelier für Alle?
We are passionate about the integration of young people with disabilities in our local and global community. Initially, we were inspired by the Night to Shine in the US, a program through which volunteers throw a ball for their community members with special needs. We began planning a similar event until COVID-19 hit Basel and it quickly became clear that we could not host a 300-person event any time soon. So we shifted gears: inspired by Basel’s vibrant visual arts culture and community, we thought a virtual atelier where students with disabilities could create and share art might be the perfect vehicle to connect. The Atelier für Alle was born.
What do you hope to achieve by it? What is your overall goal?
We want to help children and young people with disabilities to express themselves freely and give them an opportunity to show off their artistic talent in our virtual gallery. Our goal is to include every young person with special needs in Basel who wants to participate. We’re reaching out to local public schools, local private schools, and international schools here to see if they will adopt the program for the new year. To accomplish this, we’re building a team of volunteers to grow this network and teach their peers how to create art.
How do you think art helps a community?
Art has been a form of communication and expression for as long as there have been humans on the planet. From 65,000 year-old cave paintings of Madjedbebe in Australia‘s Northern Territory to today’s latest video games, art has been a communication tool for centuries and will continue to be long into the future. It‘s a universal language which transcends the limitations of verbal communication and language barriers, uniting people of different races, nationalities and cultures who might be able to understand each other's mother tongue. With this in mind, we think art can serve not only as an expressive tool for young people with disabilities, but also a connecting force that sparks relationships and dialogue, strengthening our community.
Do you have any feedback from participants to share? What did it mean to them to have their artwork displayed?
Clara, Marie, and Katie created some fantastic art. The girls really enjoyed the process and looked forward to each of our art lunches. Each artist titled their work in their mother tongue, which we thought was extremely clever. Clara even invented a new variation on the decalcomania technique, dragging a damp paper across paint patterns on glass to produce the unique blue and yellow gradients of her work Sfocato (‘blurry’ in Italian). The trio was thrilled to see their work in the gallery and deservedly proud of their final products, which look extremely professional: to quote one of the girls, “It looks so good!”
Can you share any future plans with us for Atelier für Alle?
One of the most exciting facets of the project is that people from around the world can see the art our peers have created. In a similar vein, we want to include students from other countries to participate – we have already reached out to other international schools in Switzerland and a few from neighboring Germany, France, and Austria. Additionally – with thanks to mutual contacts – international schools in New Zealand, Kenya, Luxembourg, the US, and others have expressed interest in participating. Finally, we are revising the program so that young people can create and share art independently using our teaching materials. As such, if you are or know a young person with a disability who might be interested in expressing themselves creatively and showcasing their talents, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.