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My son Damian is different. The packaging is different on the inside and the outside. As a result life poses challenges for him that you and I can’t imagine. I often wonder what it must be like living inside his body. I love him. I want to protect him. I want the best for him.

I have watched him fight; to stay alive that is!

I have watched him get excited over the simplest of things.

I will never forget when he looked up with his beautiful eyes and asked “Am I going to die?”

I remember the day, only too well; when it suddenly dawned on him that he was different to other people.

I love coming home and being greeted by his huge smile and a big hug.

I hate coming home when he is angry at the world and his reality.

I hate the fear I feel when he is sick. I hate it even more when I see that fear in his eyes too.

I love it when he calls me at work and leaves cryptic messages on my voicemail and when I hear him say “Mama I love you” or “Mama you’re cool”.

I hate it when he calls me to tell me he is bored.

I want to spend more time with him. I want to make it better for him. I am lost as to what to do next. There has to more than this.

Damian is almost 23 years old. His life revolves around us, his family. His days are spent here at home. Mostly alone because we are all at work.

Apart from watching wrestling and numerous other DVDs, Damian has one other thing he does which he loves. Every Tuesday he goes to Art Compass.

Last year Damian was part of a group of artists from Art Compass who exhibited art, prints, jewellery and clothing in an exhibition entitled ‘Diversity’ held at 91 Aro Street, Aro Arts, Wellington. This was incredibly exciting for him.

creative process
free from cultural conditioning
it flows
art grows
they grow
challenging our perception of
intellectual impairment labels

21 March 2005

Sketchbook page from one of Marcel Baaijens' visual diaries. Exhibition held 20 - 24 April 2005, Wellington, NZ. Then back in January we received a letter which I would like to share with you. At the time I couldn’t deal with it. I still don’t know how to deal with it. The content of this letter has huge implications for Damian.

I am writing about it because I think it is a great example of how someone can be beaten down by a society and system which only sees value in a person based on regular job based outcomes.

Marcel Baaijens had a vision. He cared. He believed in the artists he was nurturing and supporting. He wanted to create new possibilities for people where their options were almost non-existent. He wanted to create artists with a future. Artists in their own right. Doing it their way. Sharing their joy at their achievements. Giving them a chance.

But no, this was not allowed!

18 January 2006

Today is a very, very sad day. I am very sorry to inform you that Art Compass will be closing down.

The support for the vision that I had when I started Art Compass is not sufficient to sustain our operations. We need a director, art facilitator(s), administrator, production manager, retail manager, fundraiser and accountant to do the work properly. Similar organisations have a team to take care of those tasks. Most of those tasks I have done on my own. This workload is getting too much for me.

A new part-time administrative/fundraiser position that was created late last year was financially unsustainable. Research confirmed what I expected all along that we were unable to fund our operations from funding applications alone. Without a government cobtract we are unable to exist. More and more organisations compete each year for a decreasing pool of funding.

New Zealand is lacking the political willingness at national and local level to support an organisation like ours. We have existed by the grace of the Sisters of Compassion who shared and fully supported my vision. Being part of the Compassion Centre has been just wonderful.

A senior policy analyst from the Ministry of Social Development finally confirmed that we fall within a funding gap. Art is still not seen as a career option for people with intellectual disabilities, unless they can fill existing vacancies which is unrealistic. All funding is geared towards the creation of jobs. Supported self-employment is not an option at this moment in time.

The creative and human potential that we have unlocked in our artists, of whom the majority were deemed to have no potential at all, will unfortunately remain just that: potential. This will come at a great cost to the artists, their families, and society, as economic potential will be lost and welfare dependency perpetuated. The outlet store for the Art Compass artists.

Too many odds have been stacked against us. Five years of struggling and juggling have taken its toll on my work and myself. I am saddened and frustrated that I have been unable to take my vision beyond the current level.

The new shop, although doing well, has not generated enough income to become self-supporting. A big rainstorm just before Christmas exposed some major water proofing issues that are too big to deal with.

The studio will close just before Easter. The shop will remain open as long as we can.

I want to thank all those who have supported Art Compass in any way over the years, you know who you are, and your help has been much appreciated.

Marcel Baaijens
Programme Director

Tom Beard announced in his blog on 21 March 2006:

On a sadder note, 10 Haining St closed down last weekend. At first, I wondered whether this was due to an overly pioneering decision to open so far from the beaten retail track, but a note on the door explains that its parent charity, Art Compass, has wound up due to lack of funding. I hope that the artists find other outlets for their work.

I have no idea what awaits my son, nor the other artists.

I do however have a plea. Please don’t judge those that are different and assume they have nothing to offer. They are people who have feelings and needs. Just as you and I work, laugh, love and play, so do they. The biggest problem for people like my son is that others do not have the time that is required to help them do what needs to be done. We live in a fast paced, intolerant, and impatient world which doesn’t allow for anyone who can’t keep up. If you can do anything for anyone then “Do it”. It may mean very little to you and yet to someone else it could be a life changing moment.

As I have been writing a song has sprung into my mind. An old song from my youth.

Try a Little Kindness
by Glen Campbell

If you see your brother standing by the road
With a heavy load from the seeds he’s sowed
And if you see your sister falling by the way
Just stop and stay you’re going the wrong way

You got to try a little kindness
Yes show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you’ll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Don’t walk around the down and out
Lend a helping hand instead of doubt
And the kindness that you show every day
Will help someone along their way

You got to try a little kindness
Yes show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you’ll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

One things for sure, I am celebrating Damian: the man, the artist, and the son. The potential that has started to be unleashed is better than nothing having happened at all. His time spent at Art Compass has been special. He was lucky. I can’t wait to bring home Damian’s art and hang it proudly knowing that it was created by him. It may not be worth anything to anyone else but to us it is worth more than any amount of money.

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One Response to “Valuing and celebrating difference”

  1. on 10 May 2010 at 1:13 pm Sue

    There are so many gems out there in the blogosphere – and yours is one!
    Some might think of Damian as unlucky, but he is blessed to have a wonderful mother like you.
    Happy painting Damian.

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