Atelier fur Alle – The Freedom of Expression

The Atelier Fur Alle initiative was created by two like-minded students from the ISB with goals and ambitions, to give a voice to those who often go undermined in the world of art. Owen and Josh took it upon themselves to do exactly that; give a voice to artists with disabilities. They created the Atelier für Alle virtual exhibition for people to enjoy the artists’ artwork digitally, which is especially convenient considering the COVID-19 pandemic going on right now. Additionally, this is a great opportunity for these artists to interact with their community through a uniform medium and make connections with one another. The virtual exhibition takes the shape of a 3D viewing space, the one below, where the artwork is displayed as it would be in a real Art Gallery. With this setup, it makes for a sophisticated and pleasant viewing experience, and gives the project capability for future expansion. Although they just started, the two friends are planning to expand this initiative to connect schools across Switzerland, and maybe later, the world. 

I was lucky enough to hear directly from Owen and Josh themselves, answering questions about their project. I was curious as to the origins of their undertaking, how they came up with their idea: “We are passionate about the integration of young people with disabilities in our local and global community” they said. “…we were inspired by the Night to Shine in the US” and initially they were planning to more or less mimic this initiative, hosting a large charity event. However, due to the pandemic, they had to “shift gears” and come up with a plan B. So they turned directly to the Basel community, rich in arts and colors and drew out their idea from there: “we thought a virtual atelier where students with disabilities could create and share art might be the perfect vehicle to connect.” and hence Atelier für Alle came to fruition.

Below you can find the virtual gallery hosted this summer with the first artworks from some ISB students. Feel free to explore!

Ms. Craig from the intensive needs department had a very important role in Josh’s and Owen’s project, helping them set up their first exhibition and introduce their project to her students at the ISB. I had a quick word with her how the project was integrated into her classroom. “Owen and Josh came to me with this idea that they wanted to provide a space to showcase artwork from students with special needs … we started planning [right away]”, Ms. Craig says. “The students were then able to choose what they would like to create and Owen and Ms. Peta were there to help with the artistic side of things.” As the artists were completing artwork after artwork inspired by the idea of it being put on display, Owen and Josh handled the technical side of things, preparing the 3D space for the artwork to be put up. Owen, along with Mrs. Peta, took on an active role in the classroom, providing the girls with encouragement and advice, filling the room with laughter and lightheartedness throughout the sessions. The cherry on top of the cake was “seeing Marie, Clara, and Katie light up with joy when they saw their published artwork in the virtual gallery.“

“Josh and I wanted to be sure that the atelier was a thoughtful learning experience as well as an opportunity to build stronger community ties.” says Owen, when I asked about his perspective on the process; it would have been impossible to carry out without the support of the phenomenal staff of the intensive needs program. Both of them are proud of the commitment everyone involved demonstrated and of the valuable learning experience this initial couple of sessions provided. “The girls’ artwork is fantastic, in fact their first pieces were the catalyst that has given the project momentum and excitement. ” is the overall conclusion the pair drew from the first exhibition published in September of this year.

Based on this feedback, Owen and Josh are re-thinking the structure of their project to maximize collaboration and communication between different schools in Switzerland. “we want student leaders like ourselves to introduce the program to their school, so we’re building out the necessary resources for them to accomplish that.” They are making resources so that students at other schools have more means to act independently without major dependence on Josh and Owen themselves. This way the project can pick up speed across the country and expand in much less time. Additionally, it grants more freedom to the students to express themselves as they please, ultimately acting on the overarching goal of their project.

However, this is just the start for Atelier für Alle, as Owen and Josh have ambitious plans to expand their project. “We’re reaching out to local public schools, local private schools, and international schools here to see if they will adopt the program for the new year.” One of their largest ambition is to host a real life exhibition of Student’ artworks sometime in the future to put the magnitude of the impact of such a collaborative initiative on display into perspective. The staple feature of the exhibition is that students and teachers from all around the world can view the artworks displayed in the gallery. As Owen states, “… we want to include students from other countries to participate – we have already reached out to other international schools in Switzerland and a few from neighboring Germany, France, and Austria.  Additionally – with thanks to mutual contacts – international schools in New Zealand, Kenya, Luxembourg, the US, and others have expressed interest in participating.” And the online format of the exhibition, as well as it stemming from an international school, are the best combination of factors for global expansion.

“Finally, we are building the program so that young people can create and share art independently with help from our teaching materials.  As such, if you are or know a young person with a disability who might be interested in expressing themselves creatively and showcasing their talents, send us an email at [email protected]. ” The two have a busy couple of months ahead, as their initiative spreads to all the corners of the world, bringing us closer in a time where we all need that the most.