Last year I quit the business world as an escape from the lifestyle and the robotic work routine. I decided to take a U-turn against a glossy career and decided to pursue an art degree instead. Carrying a handful of probably “uncool” labels in The Ruskin School of Fine Art at Oxford — mature student, International Business degree-holder, marketing specialist — I meandered between conventional “art for art’s sake”, and critical theories supporting the socio-political function of art since William Morris’s Arts & Crafts Movement. As time went by, I had discovered my inner craving to join the group of contemporary artists instrumentalising art to instigate a broader social change.
I was fortunate enough to get an internship at Our Hong Kong Foundationduring the summer, and embarked on a policy research on Arts Inclusion in Hong Kong. The objective of the research is to ultimately supplement the HKSAR government with policy-making insights on how arts-based interventions could be best utilised for reducing social exclusion of marginalised groups, with a large emphasis on the disabled.
Over the three months, we studied an extensive body of empirical research on the social impact of arts and familiarised ourselves with the universal human right of participating in art and cultural activities put forward by the United Nations. We interviewed various NGOs in Hong Kong which have been utilising arts to support the disabled group, such as the Arts with the Disabled Association Hong Kong and the Lok Hong Integrated Community Centre for Mental Wellness, to name but a few. We are equally interested in the function of art to improve personal health and resolve social exclusion, as well as the development of one’s artistic potential in the realisation of equal rights.
Discussion on Arts Inclusion with Dr. Sandra Tsang from the University of Hong Kong
With accumulative evidence, it has become noticeable to us that there are loopholes to mend in the field where the public awareness of the benefits of arts remains low, and the social stigmatisation of disability persists albeit an over 30-year disability rights movement in Hong Kong. It is disheartening whenever we learn that disabled artists failed to secure job opportunities, unrecognised by the mainstream art institutions and received unjust remuneration for their artistic labour. We envisage our research could ultimately call for a grander commitment from the HKSAR government and a greater solidarity of all pertinent organisations to incite significant and tangible progress.
During the internship, I have come to recognise that disability and art is not a regional issue but rather a global concept. The effort in favour of arts inclusion is internationally and unremittingly felt. We had an inspiring phone conversation with a Taiwanese disability art institution, Integrated Arts Education Association of Taipei, which has been working to develop their arts-based pedagogy into a schematic set of research-based theory since their establishment in 2011. Singapore has just debuted their annual Arts & Disability Forum in 2016, co-organised by their National Art Council, British Council Singapore and the Singapore International Foundation and received profound international participation. Here, the 2018 launch of the National Disability Arts Collection & Archive website will indeed raise the bar for preserving the history of disability art activism in the U.K.
My work on the Arts Inclusion paper is yet to come to an end with a target release in first quarter 2018, so is my quest for reconciliation between the art-school discourse of contemporary art and the practical efforts to push forward the utility of arts to generate social impact. Rather than being mutually exclusive, they are indeed mutually informed. Who could, after all, deny that such a practice is art?