I recently sat down with Mindy Lloyd, the country director of Epic Arts, a London-based non-profit and learned more about what this organization is up to here in China.
Q: What is the story is the story behind Epic Arts?
A: The idea for Epic Arts first started when three friends were attending the University of Edinburgh. Each of the three specialized in a different area of the arts – theatre, dance, and visual arts. They wanted to use their creative talents to start an organization, and decided over time that their common vision was to bring people with and without disabilities together through the arts. After many years of diligently putting away small amounts of their savings, they made their first trip to an orphanage in Nanning, China where they taught a group of orphans with disabilities how to dance. At the end of their trip, the group put on a dance performance for the city of Nanning. Since then, Epic has come back to China at least one to two times a year for the past 11 years!
Epic Arts believes in a world where Every Person Counts (Epic) and where people with disabilities are valued, accepted and respected. We employ teams to run workshops, training programs and create performances. Epic promotes integration of people of all abilities and disabilities through the arts as a form of expression, transformation and empowerment. It celebrates the creative potential of those with whom we work.
Q: Can you briefly describe the current culture and environment for those with disabilities in China? Why was it important to bring Epic to China?
A: According to Handicap International, 6% (80 million) of China’s total population lives with a disability. Of this number, only 2% have access to basic health services, and 80% are unemployed. Among disabled children, only 2% go to school. Many are abandoned and placed in orphanages.
At Epic, our goal is to encourage acceptance and inclusion through the arts and creative exploration.
The mother of an autistic son in Beijing said this about our work:
Chinaʼs approach to children with disabilities is to train them into acting more “normal.” My child is autistic, and in getting to know him over the years, his mannerisms are not “abnormal,” they are just different. We need an organization like Epic Arts to exist in China because your approach is about seeing the value in each individual, and helping them achieve creative self-expression. This is invaluable.
In a society where it is oftentimes shameful to have a disability, we hope to foster understanding and raise awareness of the common humanity people with and without disabilities have through our workshops, trainings and performances. Through the arts, we hope to enable people to develop new creative skills and build self-confidence.
Q: What type of projects and programs have you been sponsoring in China? What have the outcomes been like?
A: Since setting up the China branch in March this year, we have worked with partners on three different projects. In June, two of our dance practitioners delivered a weeklong dance workshop at the Pengcheng Special Education School, a non-profit school for children with learning disabilities in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province. The school has become known in China for its unusual ability to make a difference in the lives and development of children with learning disabilities who would otherwise not have the opportunity to attend school because of their “extremely low I.Q.”
We also ran a two-day music and movement workshop for QingCongQuan (QCQ) Autistic Training Center in Shanghai. All 45 children in the school participated in the event and together, they explored movement, sounds, instruments, and working with others. The music teacher said, “I have learned a lot from Epic in these past few days, and hope that I will be able to incorporate some of these new ideas into my daily classes. I also would hope that Epic could come back to QCQ in the future and perhaps offer even more training for our teachers.”
Our last project this summer was with the esteemed UK disability music charity Heart ‘n Soul. Epic was charged with helping run the China leg of their ambitious seven-country project, the Dean Rodney Singers Project (DRS). The project sought to create 24 songs and corresponding music videos, all over iPads and the Internet. Sponsored by the British Arts Council, DRS was made a part of the Paralympic Games in London 2012. Working with 72 artists from around the world, Epic helped select the global team’s ten Chinese dancers and musicians, with and without disabilities. During the London team’s two-day visit, the China Director helped host and facilitate integrated workshops. DRS was the first integrated disability arts project that most all of the Chinese artists had ever experienced.
Several new opportunities for partnership have surfaced in the past few months. Our past partners have also expressed an interest in continuing to work with Epic in the future.
Q: Is your approach in China different than in the other branches in the UK and Cambodia?
A: Although our vision and mission remain the same, our approach in China is inevitably different from our other branches because of the differences in cultures. In the past few months, we have discovered that the best way to work in China is to come alongside schools and community groups or other registered non-profits who are already helping those with disabilities. We offer them support in what it looks like to build out inclusive programming.
Since coming to China eleven years ago on our first visit, one of the most frequently asked questions we have received is whether or not we might be able to train the teachers at the organizations and schools in which we work. In response, we have been building out a teacher-training program, with the view of offering the staff of schools and organizations sessions that equip them with creative, inclusive methods.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
A: We hope to continue building upon partnerships with the people who might benefit from our services. Also, an ambitious goal we have here in China is to one day start an integrated dance company for people with and without disabilities
Q: What are Epic’s needs in China right now?
A: Our most immediate need right now is with regards to a pilot dance intensive we are running in Beijing. Two of Epic’s freelance dancers also run a dance workshop every week at the Huiling Community Center, a center that tends to a broad spectrum of needs for those with disabilities.
Through their work at Huiling, we have identified ten dancers with learning and sensory disabilities who would benefit from a more intensive dance program to build upon their skills, with the view of taking them to the next level in dance.
Epic now seeks to offer these particularly talented students an intensive eight-week program. Currently, we are short just 3,000RMB (approximately 500USD). The program begins in November 2012 and concludes with a big performance at a gallery in the 798 art district in Beijing. We are also setting out to bring at least two of the dancers to Shanghai for a second performance.
Our long-term goal is to grow this pilot into a sustainable program, or perhaps even an integrated dance company.
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Thank you Mindy for taking the time to talk to SVG about the great work Epic Arts is doing in China! (Mindy is expecting and we caught her just before her maternity leave. We wish you all the best in your next chapter!) We will check back in with Epic Arts as they grow and serve China.
If you would like to donate to Epic Arts China and support their dance intensive in Beijing, please click on the following link: http://www.justgiving.com/epicarts/DonateFor more information, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOTOS OF THE JOINT COLLABERATION BETWEEN EPIC ARTS & DEAN RODNEY SINGERS.