Envision a purpose-built art studio in the creative capital of Australia with nineteen professional artists at work. A place peppered with paint splatters in every hue imaginable. Visual diaries and drafts strewn across workbenches. Ceramics awaiting their final firing in the kiln. Canvases proudly displayed in a salon-hang style. A warm and friendly camaraderie.
Welcome to QArt Studio.
Located in the eastern suburb of Kew in Melbourne, QArt Studio operates as a subsidiary of Endeavour Foundation; an Australian Disability Enterprise that provides employment, training and mentoring for professional artists living with intellectual disability.
Working under the guidance of a qualified manager, artists are taught new creative techniques and skills so that they may reach their artistic potential. Their oeuvres are creative and contemporary, working with a variety of tools and media purchased with the profits generated by artwork sales. As a case in point, the artists are regularly commissioned by Endeavour Foundation to create original artworks for their Lottery Homes throughout Queensland.
What makes this initiative exciting is that the artists have diverse views of the world and they all express it differently in their practice. When asked what he enjoys most about working at QArt Studio, Henry Deakin said, “I like the different mediums that I can do, like clay, painting and drawing.” Textiles, jewellery making, ceramics and graphic design are additional art forms on offer at the studio. “The artwork which I’m most proud of is ‘Ribbon Dancers’, because I’ve been dancing since I was twelve, and I really love dancing!”, says Tara Wood.
Artists are paid a weekly wage which offers secure employment and the opportunity to engage with the local community. “I like coming to work,” says Tara. “Everyone is so nice. I like talking to them and I have lots of friends here. I’d be bored if I didn’t work at QArt Studio; it’s a good part of my life.” At its crux, QArt Studio’s focus is keeping artists in the workforce while enabling them to live productive and engaged lives in society; however, the psychological and therapeutic benefits provided by the safe and supportive studio environment, along with the inherent act of self-expression within art-making itself, are just as important.
QArt Studio began as a day program over thirty years ago for residents of the Kew Cottages; a now decommissioned institutionalised care and residential service. The program was originally called Network Q. Some of the elder represented artists, including John Bates, Ralph Dawson and Steven Wears, all began their practice at the day program.
In 2011, QArt Studio opened a gift shop and gallery called QArt Gallery, located in the historical Kew Courthouse. This was initiated to showcase, sell, and increase access to the works of disabled artists. It is also a place of immense pride for the artists to have their work recognised and validated, feeling that they are truly professional practitioners with their art hanging in a gallery. Therefore, the gallery is not curated in a traditional manner by any means. The gallery assistant, Juliet Payne, works her magic and merchandises in a way that is a stark contrast to the typical white cube aesthetic of most institutions. Customers are welcomed by walls adorned with colour, plain white plinths brought to life with stunning arrangements of ceramics, handmade jewellery and acrylic art tiles, and baskets filled with locally printed greeting cards and recycled paper stationery. It is only halfway through perusing that they become aware of the premise of the gallery, and that the art is created by artists living with disability. Customers are astounded by the high standard and quality of the work. The delight and respect is obvious.
The essentiality of the gallery lies in that it bringing experiences of disability into the public consciousness. It makes possibilities a reality for the artists by providing a platform for them to display and sell their work; an opportunity that they may not have been granted in the wider art world. It is great for the artists to feel that their studio and work is commercially successful, which further contributes to the impact that both Endeavour Foundation and QArt Studio already have. Free exhibitions are held throughout the year where friends and families of the artists, along with the general public, are invited to sip champagne and view brand new works of art. The unwavering support that the artists receive at these events creates a welcoming and encouraging experience. When asked why QArt Gallery is important to her, Tiffany McBroom says, “Because I can make and sell, sell, sell my work, and I get to be part of the functions, like the Mother’s Day Morning Tea.” Tara says she feels “Happy and proud… I get a bit excited!” when she sells a painting at QArt Gallery. It’s a similar experience for Tiffany, who continues that it makes her feel loved and that “It’s nice to know that people love my work.”
“It makes me happy and very pleased that someone likes my work and appreciates all the effort that I put into my work,” says Henry.
The unique purpose of QArt Studio and Gallery has worked to redefine widely held preconceived notions of disability. Seeing the artists thrive in an environment where their abilities are championed and nurtured is a rewarding experience for all involved. Purchasing original art and locally produced merchandise from QArt Gallery allows Endeavour Foundation to continue employing artists with disability while enabling them to live productive and engaged lives in society.
QArt Gallery is located at 188 High St, Kew VIC 3101. Our website is qart.endeavour.com.au