Teressa Jackson, Rauch's Director of Development, is currently on a Rotary Group Study Exchange to Melbourne, Australia, where she is meeting with organizations serving disabilities. Her account from her vocational visit on February 27 follows.
I had another vocational day today, spending several hours at Arts Project Australia. Sandy, their Office Manager, graciously spent the morning with me, orienting me to their philosophy and approach, and Sim spent the afternoon orienting me to their curatorial practices, social media efforts, events, etc. Much like Rauch, Arts Project Australia was founded 40 years ago by a parent of a daughter with an intellectual disability. Myra Hilgendorf saw the artistic potential in her daughter, and became inspired. The project began by collecting and displaying art from institutions around Melbourne. This original collection is permanently housed in the organization’s archives.
Arts Project Australia’s approach is to give practicing artists who have intellectual disabilities a means to create their work. All Arts Project Australia’s staff have a fine arts degree, and most are part-time so that they can continue to practice as an artist themselves. The artists who are a part of the studio are shown in exhibits across Melbourne, Australia, and the world, including in the gallery co-located with the studio. Three of their artists have work in the Melbourne Now exhibit our group visited on Monday at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Currently, 113 artists work in the studio, around 45 are there on any given day. They operate 6 days a week, including a half-day on Saturday. The time artists spend at the studio varies from one to five days a week, depending on their funding and level of interest. The studio operates in four terms, with a two-week break between terms, and longer at the holidays. During the break, art is reviewed and the best pieces are selected to be stored for future exhibitions or sale. Art deemed especially worthy is placed in the organization’s open permanent collection. Artists can focus on drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics, 3-D design, photo, and digital animation/manipulation.
Most of Arts Project Australia’s income (around 80%) is from day service funding from the state and federal (commonwealth) government. As such, they receive funding to support the time the artists spend at the studio and the support provided to them during that time. Artists receive 60% of the proceeds from the sale or license of their work. This setup required negotiation and understanding with the government due to its innovative nature. Arts Project Australia also receives grants and sponsorships, and is working to implement a donor program.
Of course, the highlight for me was seeing the artists at work. Many of them were intrigued that I was from America. I was told I looked like a “supermodel”, asked about the death penalty, discussed Elvis and Graceland, and requests were made to accompany me back to the U.S. I must admit that it made me miss the people who make my life special every day at home.