National

Japan's disabled kids doing art at subsidized after-school workshops

by Chihiro Maeyama

Kyodo

Kentaro Hayashi is a weekly regular at atelier incurve jr. in the city of Osaka, a privately run after-school workshop where art specialists watch over children with mental or physical disabilities.

On a visit in late June, the 13-year-old with a learning disability cascaded orange paint onto a canvas, spread it with his fingers and added layers of green and blue.

Kentaro was aided by staff in opening the paint containers but he was otherwise left to his own devices. After about half an hour, he produced an original marbled pattern.

While he has always been an avid painter, his style became more dynamic since he started making regular after-school trips to the workshop, according to his family. The facility opened in April.

“It’s great that he now has another place to express himself besides home,” his 46-year-old father, Atsuhiko, said.

Kentaro is an eighth-grader at Hyogo Prefectural Hanshin School for Students with Special Needs.

The Osaka workshop is one of a legion of after-school day care establishments for students with disabilities aged 6 to 18, offering opportunities to do art and sport, and to get skills that can help them to become self-reliant.

The facilities have spread nationwide since the central government laid out a plan for implementation in 2012, requiring parents to pay 10 percent of service charges while the central and local governments pick up the rest.

As of March, about 7,800 service providers were catering to around 120,000 people.

They have been generally credited with allowing parents to work while their children are taken care of. In March, however, the welfare ministry issued a directive to local governments to improve the quality of care offered by some service providers who are apparently motivated by profit and remain unfamiliar with the particular needs of disabled people.

Around 50 elementary to high school students with learning or development disabilities are registered at atelier incurve jr.

Many of the staff are art college graduates and hold a double qualification as social worker and art museum specialist. They are tasked with caring for each child’s individual needs to enable them to work on art in a small group.

The workshop for young artists is run by atelier incurve, a provider of supervised daytime care and art lessons for mentally disabled adults. Some of the artworks from atelier incurve have been showcased at art fairs, galleries and public spaces in Japan and abroad.

“Some children unleash creativity and produce quality paintings and drawings,” said Hiroyuki Imanaka, atelier incurve’s 53-year-old creative director, “while others draw or paint in their attempt at self-affirmation or recognition. They are unrestricted in what they do on a canvas.”

In the city of Hiroshima, Borderless Art Space HAP is proving after-school care for young artists with disabilities. A majority of its more than 50 instructors are artists.

Shigeyo Maki, 54, who runs a gallery in the city, started the day care service for children attracted to art three years ago, hoping also to allow her own 16-year-old daughter with a mental disability to spend time after school.

Based on her experiences of working with artists, Maki said she believes an artist is capable of drawing out talent from children with disabilities or sickness. She also wanted to create job opportunities for aspiring artists who find it hard to make a living.

Mariko Ono, a 43-year-old HAP instructor, said, “It’s more like we are learning from the children about new possibilities for drawing, rather than taking care of them.”

Elementary school children appear to enjoy art as an extension of playing, while some older students have produced works that have even found buyers in the art market. In July, a junior high student held an exhibition in Tokyo jointly with contemporary Japanese artist Makoto Aida.

The after-school day care service, however, is limited to those aged up to 18.

“Finding a place of their own after finishing school is a serious problem,” Maki said. “I wish we could offer a place for them to continue working on art.”