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Cultural spaces for people with disabilities by Jewish-Ukrainian Social Initiative Back

Cultural spaces for people with disabilities by Jewish-Ukrainian Social Initiative

10 May 2022

Ukrainian Outsider Art Initiative: Art for Life

Jewish-Ukrainian Social Initiative (JUSI) is launching the project ‘Ukrainian Outsider Art Initiative: Art for Life’ in affiliation with European Cultural Foundation’s Culture of Solidarity Fund. The project aims to create inclusive and nourishing cultural spaces that provide spiritual relief to people with disabilities who are impacted by the severely negative effects of permanent danger and displacement. These activities will take place across four Ukrainian cities: Kyiv psychiatric hospital and local inclusive art groups in Cherkasy, Odessa and Lviv. Offline creativity sessions will be complemented by online support.

JUSI was established in 2013 to provide sustainable support to grassroots initiatives of vulnerability reduction and promotion of inclusion at the community level. Since 2013, JUSI has been creating inclusive socialisation opportunities for vulnerable groups, including the elderly and people with disabilities from smaller suburban communities around Kyiv. The Fund’s projects currently serve over 600 elderly community members and over 200 people with disabilities residing in small towns around Kyiv. The Fund develops its projects in close communication with local community members, thus responding to the actual needs of the participants.

Here we present our interview with Volodymyr Vysotskyi, director of JUSI.

To start with a general question— What is the role of art in social inclusion? What has inspired you to consult art therapy as a medium?

Artistic practices are definitely among the principal socialisation vehicles in terms of disability. The limitations imposed by various severe health challenges – be they physical or mental – cause a dramatic effect on the person’s capacity to live a complete life, which becomes predominantly defined by the social and physical environments. In Ukraine, broad inclusion has only just begun to become mainstream and overarching. We —as a society— have just started to realise the value of equality in terms of actual personal freedom, education, job opportunities, leisure, rehabilitation, etc. The inaccessibility of infrastructure and services has for years prevented people with disabilities from self-realisation and participation in most of the community life, and many were basically confined to their dwellings.

Lack of alternatives in self-realisation and the scarcity of education/employment opportunities lead to exclusion and marginalisation. In the face of this, participation in artistic activities and ‘creative industries’ has proven to be a lifesaver. Children, youth and adults with disabilities, who are actively engaged in creativity, demonstrate increased self-sufficiency, self-regulation and emotional well-being. They are much better integrated into the local communities and enjoy productive lives – and this benefits both themselves and their parents, relatives and loved ones. Art gives people purpose, stimulates their development and personal growth and develops their concentration and communication skills.

Our projects engage art therapy as a tool to promote the normalisation of the participants’ and their families’ psycho-emotional well-being. Art therapy offers unique benefits as it provides a setting for mutual support, informal interaction and exchange of creative ideas, while simultaneously promoting cooperation and community cohesion.

Last year, JUSI initiated the project ‘100 Days of Ukrainian Outsider Art’, which promoted the artistic experience of people with disabilities, sustained interaction between professionals in art therapy and social inclusion and provided a showcase of outsider art for the broader public. Could you share further insights on this project?

The first online meeting of art-therapy professionals lasted for about 40 minutes and was mostly limited to formal introductions. The online conference we held at the end of the four-month project was almost four hours – with discussions, intensive screen sharing and jokes. This one detail highlighted two peculiar issues: firstly, art therapy in Ukraine was a rather closed field, with relatively few professionals working with a certain degree of isolation from one another; and secondly, after a couple of months of cooperation within the project, the engaged professionals became a real community, willing to share experiences, interact and support each other. We were happy because we really wanted this community to happen, and it was achieved without any special efforts – thanks to the project itself, meaning it was well conceived and organised.

In these present circumstances, what do you anticipate will be similar and different from previous times for the realisation of such a project? Relatedly, what are some considerations and/or challenges in providing a stable and normalised environment when the overall situation is anything but stable and normal?

Since the outbreak of war, thousands of people with disabilities have been facing extreme dangers and stress. Hundreds of people with psycho-social and other disabilities were relocated from their places of residence and institutions to other Ukrainian regions and have found themselves in desperate need of various vital support – ranging from medicines and food to socialisation opportunities. Thanks to the supreme efforts of volunteers and NGOs their basic welfare needs are being covered. But social inclusion and emotional well-being remain an enormous challenge. So today there’s close to nothing similar to the pre-war times.

The main challenge to providing a stable and relatively normalised environment includes ensuring that there are qualified professionals, arranging suitable and comfortable working spaces and providing sufficient time and materials for the realisation of the session plan. It is also crucial to include the participants’ families and the broader community – sessions, rehearsals, exhibitions and performances should be open and non-formal.

After the breakout of the war, JUSI launched an extensive relief program to minimize the humanitarian crisis in war-struck suburban towns near Kyiv, as well as in other regions of Ukraine. The Fund has also been delivering food products, medicines, hygiene products, rehabilitation, and other necessities to low-mobile, sick and needy elderly residents, as well as people with disabilities.

The Fund provides both individual support and support to volunteer groups, institutions, and organisations of people with disabilities, family child care homes and hospitals.

Granted: €7,070

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