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Intoart Ceramics
28th November 2017

New Client: Intoart

“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society.” 

These are the words of David Issac, the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), spoken in April 2017. His words followed Being disabled in Britain: A journey less equal, a report published by the EHRC that same month. As its title suggests, the report’s findings were grim: “Progress towards real equality for disabled people over the past twenty years is insufficient and 'littered with missed opportunities and failures.”

It is somewhat ironic that almost 20 years ago, in 2001, Sam Jones and Ella Ritchie founded Intoart, an art collective based in south London that works with people with learning disabilities. The organisation supports artists in furthering their practices with the provision of facilities including art and design studios, an exhibitions and events programme, and a mentoring scheme. Its vision, much like that of the EHRC, is for people with learning disabilities to be visible, equal and established artists and member of society. 

In early 2018, Intoart will move to a larger space at Peckham Levels in south London. With change on the horizon – a larger space meaning “more projects and more artwork” – we spoke to co-founder Ella Ritchie about the ethos driving the organisation. 
Jumpsuit part of Intoart collection
How did Intoart come about?

Intoart is an art and design studio based in south London that works inclusively with people with learning disabilities. Sam Jones and I set up the organisation in 2001, the year after we left art college where we studied Fine Art Printmaking. From the very beginning we were committed to bring about change in response to the need for, and lack of, high quality arts education and opportunities for and by people with learning disabilities. We developed our first eight-week project in Peckham and we now run a full time programme comprising an art studio, design studio, exhibition programme, solo artist programmes, mentoring, and an archive of more than 2,000 artworks.

What drove you to found Intoart? 

In the second year of my BA course, I started volunteering on a summer project where I worked with young people with learning disabilities. I knew through this experience that I wanted to commit to something beyond my own art practice and that had a wider social impact.

What sort of prejudices/preconceptions/obstacles do you seek to overcome?

Our vision is for people with learning disabilities to be visible, equal and established artists. Intoart’s artistic programme creates opportunities for production, leadership and audience engagement. Assumptions prevail that people with learning disabilities are the recipients of a service and are participants rather than contemporary cultural producers in their own right. There is a huge amount of work still to be done to raise expectations and challenge preconceptions. We believe that with increased ambition, the artwork made by artists from Intoart is a strong counter to those prejudices. More people need to see and experience the work, and for that to happen we look to external collaborations, partnerships and individuals that can spark new, exciting and future opportunities for Intoart.
Mawuena Kattah working
How do you measure your success as an enterprise?

We challenge the under-representation of people with learning disabilities practicing as artists and designers through our integrated programme of art education, professional development and innovative public programming. Recent success includes the inclusion of works by Mawuena Kattah in the Arts Council Collection and Ntiense Eno Amooquaye’s award of an International Artists Development grant to research and develop new work at Texture Museum in Belgium.

What have been the standout moments in the 16 years you’ve been operating?

We have built the organisation up slowly, with all members of the team working in a range of other practices and jobs which contributed a richness of ideas, skills and experiences to the early projects we were initiating. A key moment for Intoart as an inclusive studio practice was in 2006 when people with learning disabilities told us they wanted their own studio space to make artwork long-term. We set up our first studio at Studio Voltaire and were there for 10 years. We are currently embarking on another key move to a new and larger space at Peckham Levels that will meet the need of our growing organisation and the diversity of our art and design practice.

How many people are employed by the initiative, and what do they do?

We are a small and committed team comprised of co-founders Ella Ritchie Director, Sam Jones Programme Manager and Tom Dorkin Design Co-ordinator who joined us in 2011. We all work in a hands-on capacity in the studio to inform the development and delivery of Intoart’s art and design programme. 

We work with a vast range of freelance artists, designers and makers from early career to high profile partners as part of our studio programme and collaborative projects to push forward new ideas working with Intoart artists. Our collaborations range from working with film makers, fashion designers and ceramicists on the development of a new collection or body of work, to working with visiting artists or curators to open up a conversation about exhibition making.
Ntiense Eno Ammoquaye wearing her own placement printed dress
Mawuena Kattah's solo exhibition at Tenderbooks
On what basis do you invite artists to become part of the studio collective?

We work with adults with learning, physical and sensory disabilities and those on the Autistic Spectrum. Through our partnerships with statutory services and voluntary sector organisations, we strive to reach people that want to make artwork or try something new that has the potential to become a meaningful part of their life.

What does your mentoring programme for young people involve?

Practice Makes programme with schools is a pioneering model of artist mentoring by Intoart artists with learning disabilities working with young people with learning disabilities. Artist mentors share their skills and experience with young people. Projects are long-term, involving high levels of contact time to develop mentor/mentee relationships and high quality public exhibitions.

In what ways do you support your artists on their independent projects?

We have supported artists to develop ambitious solo programmes, building partnerships that create a platform for their work. Solo Artists projects support the progression of artists beyond the studio to design, develop and realise their own artistic programmes. Mawuena Kattah’s two year programme Patterns of People included a placement at the V&A ceramics studio, a solo exhibition at Tenderbooks, and selection for the Real To Reel Crafts Council Film Festival. Ntiense Eno Amooquaye’s Artist Audio Recorder programme included a new body of work including performance, text and image, realised in a solo exhibition at The Poetry Library Southbank Centre. 

In 2017 Ntiense Eno Amooquaye received an Artists International Development Fund grant to research and develop new work at Texture Museum, Belgium. Her resulting work will be shared in 2018 through film, performance, new writing and artworks.
Intoart's Ceramics collection launched at Nikki Tibbles Wild at Heart
What happens on a typical day in the studio?

Every day in the studio varies, depending what each artist is working on. There’s a lot of humour in the studio but at the same time everyone is very focused and supportive, taking their own and each other’s work very seriously. Some artists might be in the research stage, testing out a new idea or material, others working towards an exhibition. We are always reflecting on our practice and encouraging the introduction of new ideas, materials and external opportunities. Since some of the artists making work in the studio have been part of the collective for over 10 years, individual progression is an important part of our ethos.

What has led to the studio’s expansion into a larger space?

Since our first studio space ten years ago the volume and scope of our activity has vastly increased. In the new year (2018) there will be 21 artists with learning disabilities in the collective, meaning more projects and more artwork. We are excited about creating a new home for Intoart where people can walk into the site of production, meet the artists, pop in to buy from our shop and experience the creativity and energy of the Intoart studio. Our new home will create opportunities for our artists to grow, be visible and evolve as part of a vibrant art community.
Intoart's installation at the V&A for the London Design Festival 2017
For more on socially aware craft discussion check out our interview with Annie Warburton the Creative Director of Craft Council.

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De Beauvoir Block
92 De Beauvoir Road
N1 4EN

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