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The closing of a door

One of my younger sisters, Diana, once said to me: “We were never promised it would be easy Marica.”

As I sit here writing my heart feels heavy and the tears don’t seem to want to go away. I am reminded of my sister’s words all those years ago. At the same time I also feel elated that I am capable of feeling what I am feeling. Being aware has many emotions associated with it.

Love is one of those emotions. It is so powerful. It takes over in so many ways. For me, my love for my children began even before they were born. However, it was the moment when we met each other face to face for the very first time that this bond became sealed. It is a bond that can never be broken. We are connected for all eternity whether we like it or not.

I want the best for my children. I work hard to provide for them just as my parents did for me. I endeavour to always be available to them – through the good times and the bad. I revel in their successes and feel intense pride. When your child is challenged in some way these things take on new meaning. The smallest achievements take on mammoth proportions because you know it has necessitated a tremendous amount of effort.

Awareness is a special gift. One which I cherish because it is my constant reminder of the fragility of life and the need to treasure what we do have, even if it is not how we might want it to be.

Last night we went to an extraordinary event. It was a humbling experience which I am finding difficult to put into words. I know whatever I write here will never do it justice – you needed to be there.

The message in the invitation was simple.

You are invited to a celebration to mark the closing of Art Compass.

This was a momentous occasion for a number of people. For my son it meant another door was closing. As I write this there is no indication of where the new door opening might be. However, life experience has taught me that there will be a new door at some point. It will be different. It might even be better. Who knows? We will have to wait and see.

It was an evening full of stories – those that were shared and the myriad that went untold. The faces present said so much. Here is a snapshot of some of the stories of these special artists who have been attending Art Compass.

An example of Amy's art.Amy has recently written a story that has been transformed into a radio play. The first episode aired this week on Access Radio. There are a total of four episodes.

“It’s not for children!” Amy announced rather emphatically.

Everyone laughed.

It appears Amy has a talent for shocking her audience, in a “nice” way. There is no subtlety here – either in her personality or in her work. Amy exuded incredible confidence. Her art work is complicated and deep. She delves into areas many people wouldn’t touch.

Emmett received a cheque as a bonus for producing the most popular T-shirt design in the Art Compass collection. His simple volcano image T-shirt has been snapped up by locals either as gifts for family and friends living overseas or for them to wear.

Jeff is a computer design whiz. He arrived at Art Compass with an incredibly short attention span – in minutes as opposed to hours. Now he can sit at a computer for half a day. He has a particular passion for trains. He has created prints and other designs for T-shirts. Throughout the evening Jeff was drawn to the digital cameras being used like a magpie. He wanted to touch and play with these pieces of equipment. He loved looking in the viewfinder and seeing the picture that was being captured.

One of Yelena Barbalich's art works.Yelena can barely write her name. Instead she sends visual messages through the creation of intricate patterns. She is the most prolific artist at Art Compass. She was presented with a poetry book which features one of her artworks on the front cover. Yelena’s work has also graced a government policy document, an annual report, light fittings, and the glass front doors of a building.

David loves using a variety of media – clay, pencil, water colour, computer software programmes such as Photoshop and Illustrator. He loves giving his works interesting titles. An example is The dark haired chick in the blue hazy nightclub.

Vicki couldn’t stop smiling. Every time I looked at her she was smiling. She loves creating paintings of tall buildings and this has evolved into sculptural works. We saw samples of her little city made up of terracotta buildings. All her work is vibrant and it resonates her personality. Vicki has also taken to enhancing her work through computer design software.

Tamzin was labelled as the romantic artist in the group. She believes you can’t have enough hearts in the world. Tamzin was also presented with a bonus cheque in acknowledgement of designing the top selling children’s T-shirts. She has a mission to rid the world of plain paper. Paper is there to be drawn on, so she ensures there is nothing plain about any paper once she has finished drawing on it. She has produced wonderful gift cards and decorated boxes with hearts of all shapes and sizes on them.

An excerpt from the book

Damian was congratulated for working through the best self-discovery process. By digitally manipulating images of himself he found a new form of expressing the emotions he feels which he otherwise had difficulty expressing. He has created a wonderful collage which has brought together images, words and symbols which represent fragments of his life. From this collage he managed to produce a number of works including a popular T-shirt design entitled I spy.

Every artist was presented by Marcel Baaijens (Art Compass Programme Director and Art Facilitator) a certificate, a special commemorative T-shirt, and a book called Beyond Reasonable Doubt which was produced to celebrate Art Compass and its participating artists over the five years of its existence.

All of these artists can now claim that they are published artists!

Damian being presented with his certificate, T-shirt and book.As the speeches continued there was lots of laughter and lots of tears.

Gifts were presented.

Parents and the artists spoke passionately about what Art Compass meant to them.

The thanks and tributes to Marcel and Brooke flowed freely.

There was a genuineness amongst the people present in the building – 10 Haining Street, the Art Compass shop.

“Your son is cute” one woman said to me “He makes me smile.”

Another woman asks me “Where are you from?”

I reply “From Wellington.”

She asks me again “Where are you from?” As I realise I am not giving her the answer she is expecting I then add “Karori”. She walks off.

It was all a bit surreal. People talked freely. They moved from person to person. There were no inhibitions. No one was judging anyone. You accepted everyone as they were – a very unusual experience these days.

I watched Damian work the room. He was so comfortable. He was busy chatting to all sorts of different people. He looked so happy.

Brooke and Damian at the Art Compass celebration.I overheard Brooke (one of the art facilitators) say to Damian “I believe in you Damian.” This was overwhelming to me. This belief in Damian and his abilities is so rare outside our own family. Damian flourished under Brooke’s guidance. She managed to bring out a Damian we had not seen before. This is an incredibly rare talent.

The artists were proud of their achievements. There was no evidence of them being bogged down by the inhibitions that the rest of us are inflicted with. Through their art exploration they have developed a sense of who they are and it reverberated within the walls of the old concrete building we were in. Art Compass had given this unused building life, for a short time at least. I don’t believe this building would never have seen so much energy even when it was an electricity sub-station.

People with intellectual disabilities are seldom provided with opportunities to study, develop or use visual language and explore its potential. That is what Art Compass set out to provide during the last five years. The key to the success of the studio lies in simple but essential principles; we observe and listen; take their aspirations and stories seriously and allow them to freely express themselves. Only then can we begin to attempt facilitation. It is about being with rather than doing or caring and providing appropriate challenges to stimulate artistic development. Where there is artistic development personal growth follows naturally.

Marcel Baaijens (2006), Beyond Reasonable Doubt, pages 3-4.

One big happy family at the Art Compass celebration.How can we as a society say that these artists are not worthy of being supported in their path to becoming who they are meant to be? This week the NZ government released its strategies for improving the quality and relevance of learning in the tertiary education sector. I never heard any mention of the consideration of social responsibility within education and training which would allow for the provision of opportunities for all members of society. We have triple bottom lines for accounting purposes; what about in other aspects of the provision of services within our society. Every one has a right to learn and to learn according to their specific needs.

The artists I have been talking about cannot work in traditional ways. They do not learn in traditional ways. They do not fit any nice, neat and tidy mould. They need individual guidance to thrive. They are unique individuals who face extraordinary challenges. Unfortunately because of this they are marginalised.

I was also amazed last night to hear that so many of these artists use highly sophisticated design software as part of the creating process. There is a message here as well.

The stories I heard last night need to be heard. They need to be shared. We need to raise awareness. Unfortunately the stories of these artists are difficult for many to comprehend and therefore it is easier to forget these people exist than deal with their reality.

I’ve come to realise that these artists are in many ways better off than we are. After all how many people do you see that look this happy when you go anywhere?

The artists of Art Compass 2006

It is truly electrifying being in their presence. They are special human beings and those who have cared and nurtured them are special as well. I feel privileged to have crossed all their paths.

Marcel and Brooke sharing an emotional moment during the speeches.

Thank you Marcel and Brooke. You will always have a special place in our hearts.

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