Interview with Co-Founder Ella Ritchie
By Yasmin Jones-Henry
YJH: What inspired you to launch Intoart in 2001?
ER: Myself and Sam Jones founded Intoart in
response to a lack of high-quality arts education and limited opportunities for artists with learning disabilities. We had both just graduated from Central St Martins in Fine Art Printmaking. Alongside studying in my third year of the BA course, I had been working on summer projects with people with learning disabilities through recreational activities but when it came to the arts activities the resources being made available and expectations of people were very poorly invested in. Determined to challenge preconceptions and overturn prejudices, we set up the first 8-week Intoart project in Peckham in 2001, with a commitment to working with adults with learning disabilities for whom there was limited access to the visual arts and art education.
We have remained committed to our founding values and expanded to work in the design field. Intoart aims to provide a platform for people with learning disabilities to become both visible and equal in the art and design world – not merely applauded for participating, but recognised and respected as creatives in their own right. Over the past 18 years Intoart has grown to become a permanent, full-time programme and studio space, moving into our new space at Peckham Levels earlier this year. We support the work of 21 artists and designers, working across a range of media including painting, print, illustration, fashion, ceramics, product and graphic design.
Intoart have realised exhibitions, commissions and research projects with contemporary art galleries and museums in the UK and internationally, including to date, V&A, Tate, Southbank Centre, Whitechapel Gallery and Studio Voltaire.
YJH: Describe what Intoart offers in 3 words
ER: Ambition / Craftsmanship/ Integrity
YJH: What are your long-term plans? Where would you like Intoart to be in 5 years time?
ER: For more people with learning disabilities to be recognised and seen as artists and designers in their own right. We will continue to develop innovative programmes and new partnerships.
In five–years’ time we would love to have a number of new and exciting high profile collaborations under our belt that align with our practice and are experienced by many people who had never previously heard of us and what we do.
YJH: What advice would you offer to anyone looking to launch a social enterprise/initiative of their own?
ER: We have built up the organisation incrementally and had a close eye on maintaining the quality of our practice whilst increasing the ambition. We have always valued our partnerships, collaborations and working with individuals who contribute ideas, widen networks and opportunities – it’s really important to nurture new relationships and invest in long-standing ones.
YJH: What can projects #W readers look out for next from Intoart?
ER: This November, we launch a new capsule collection Intoart X John Smedley of nine garments designed by Intoart artists. The collection will be launching in John Smedley stores on 15 November in time for their flagship Christmas window displays. It’s the first collaboration of its kind for both Intoart and John Smedley, as well as the biggest commercial impact that Intoart has had on the design industry to date. We are really excited to work with a major design brand to realise the potential of Intoart’s artists and designers, and hope that it will lead to further opportunities and collaborations.
The collaboration came about through renowned designer and creative director Holly Fulton, who, alongside her partner, illustrator James Lambert, have had a relationship have enjoyed a long-standing collaborative relationship with both John Smedley and Intoart.
Three artists from the Intoart studio have each produced three designs for the collection, which includes unisex jumpers, woollen dresses, a scarf and a shawl.
The Intoart x John Smedley Collection will be available from 15.11.2018
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