A is for art and ability

28th January 2005 at 00:00
Deedee Cuddihy visits a showcase of the talent and achievements of children with various learning difficulties who have been encouraged by Project Ability

Young Talent 2005 Scotland Street School Museum, Glasgow until February 12 tel 0141 287 0500

As many as 150 young people with special needs are being helped to produce art every year through workshops and classes run by Project Ability, the Glasgow-based visual arts charity that was founded 20 years ago.

A selection of their work can be seen until February 12 at the city's Scotland Street School Museum in the Project Ability exhibition Young Talent 2005.

Three rooms have been set aside for this colourful show, which should prove a source of ideas for anyone involved in teaching visual arts. It includes paintings, prints, textile pieces and some delightful film animation.

Subjects range from Tyrannosaurus rex (a charming ink and glitter portrait by Owen Scullion) to two American icons (striking interpretations of the famous Hollywood sign and Mount Rushmore by Pauline Jackson). Then there are films and film stars, soldiers with machine guns and Wind-blown Faces (well observed by Jonathan Beats in a dry point etching) along the way.

Painting on silk has rarely looked so exquisite as in Hannah Moody's picture of a fairy tale scene executed in jewel-like colours.

A plain white cover on an ordinary armchair has been turned into a designer one-off by decorating it with a series of simple black line drawings.

Some old stacking chairs have been transformed into art objects by customising them with paint, fur fabric, decorated cushions and even a painted toilet seat.

MDF, the material so beloved of television home makeover shows, has been used to great effect to produce stand-up, cut-out portraits of cartoon characters and family members.

Angela McCann has created a wardrobe of eight miniature embroidered evening gowns, hung on tiny beaded hangers in a transparent plastic case.

Other eye-catching exhibits include a length of fabric printed with the photographed faces of the children who helped to create it and a small play tent that a group of P7 pupils at Croftcroighn Primary covered with dozens of intriguing embroidered badges.

The show also features information about the work Project Ability has been doing with special needs children over the past year (much of it in partnership with Glasgow Museums' education department). An eight-week project with the YMCA to provide after-school art classes for refugee and asylum seeker children was so successful that their mothers have asked if they could have a class for themselves.

At East Park Home in Maryhill, which cares for profoundly disabled children, artists worked on a one-to-one basis with the children, helped by a member of staff. The group of decorated panels created demonstrates the range of ability of the participants: some of the panels are absolutely covered in a pattern of beads and fabric shapes, while others carry as few as three carefully chosen pieces of decoration. Staff say the Project Ability classes and workshops were so beneficial that they are now determined to do more art with the youngsters.

Three DVDs are included in the show and it is worth persevering with the temperamental remote controls to see them. One features a simple but very effective autobiographical animation. Another is A Year in Photos showing short clips of projects and filmwork by the children. The third documents work at Project Ability's regular Saturday art classes for young people with autistic spectrum disorders at the charity's Centre for Developmental Arts. Voice-overs are provided by parents.

"Jonathan has been coming here for three years," says his father, "and he's made lots of friends, his communication skills have improved, he's had lots of fun and his art has developed.

"One day he said: 'Dad goes to work; Mum goes to work; but what do I do?'

He looked troubled for a few seconds but then brightened up and said: 'I know! I go to art school. I do drawings.'

"We can't thank Project Ability enough. The Saturday art classes have been a lifeline, for us and Jonathan."

Pauline's father says: "There would be a big void in Pauline's life if she didn't have art. Everything she does is art. She's been painting since she was five or six, but since coming to the Saturday classes her technique has improved and so have her communication skills.

"When she's engaged in art, her concentration levels are phenomenal. If she didn't have art, I dread to think ..."

Elizabeth Gibson, artistic director of Project Ability, says: "Many of the youngsters who attend our Saturday classes have had a negative experience of mainstream out-of-school clubs, so the social benefit for them is part of the reason why there is such a demand for this service.

"Similarly, we discovered while undertaking a project in Cranhill for special needs kids that, although they came from the same area, many of them didn't know each other because they went to different schools. The project - a series of evening art classes - enabled them to build up a network of friends.

"SEN schools in Glasgow tend to be under-resourced in terms of computers and cameras, so the film work we've been doing in schools with them has provided pupils with hands-on experience of that equipment."

Project Ability, tel 0141 552 2822 www.project-ability.co.uk

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