This publication celebrates the successes of Art Compass and it’s participating artists during the last five years. The artists included in this publication are the artists present during the last semester of the studio’s operation in 2006. Many more have practiced their art in the studio over the years.

The main language used in this publication is visual language, the innate language of the participants at Art Compass. An intellectual impairment can make it difficult or even impossible to learn spoken and written language, yet some have learnt sufficient spoken and written language, which at best, allows them to survive in our world.

What is evident from the following pages is that all artists have the ability to express themselves using visual language, have stories to tell and a culture to express. Successful exhibitions of participant’s art have surprised many people including their closest friends and family.

Sales of prints and original art have proven the economic value of participants work. Applications of their art as graphic design for publications, T-shirts, furniture and buildings prove that their work has economic potential beyond the sale of the artwork itself. The response from the general public to the T-shirts proves that their art and designs are ‘cool’ and desirable. It is beyond reasonable doubt that they have something unique and marketable to offer to the community at large.

Seeing the artists in action at the studio has left many visitors stunned. They are pleasantly surprised by the display of work ethic, concentration and dedication by the artists. They thrive in the studio environment. The side effects of this are hugely improved sense of identity, self-esteem and personal growth that effortlessly spills over to other areas of their lives.

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 for’ and providing appropriate challenges to stimulate artistic development. Where there is artistic development personal growth follows naturally.

Art Compass studio is unfortunately closing. The success of the studio has not been matched by sufficient financial support or investment from government agencies to take the potential of the artists any further. There is still so much untapped potential and so much work to be done to provide artists with intellectual disabilities the place in society they deserve. Until such time they will remain socially, culturally and economically marginalized, their potential will remain dormant at a great human and financial cost to the individuals involved, those that are part of their lives and society art large.

A variety of ways have been explored at Art Compass on how art and creativity of the artists can be employed as a tool for social, cultural and economical integration. The following pages highlight some of the achievements of the artists and the facilitators that worked with them over the years. For the rest we will let the art do the talking. After all, art is a language and for these artists perhaps their first language.

Marcel Baaijens
Programme Director and Art facilitator
Art Compass
New Zealand