They have so much more in them

The Everyday Revolution

He learnt how to jump only when he was eight.

So it was a big leap forward for Kenny Tan, who has moderate autism and cerebral palsy, when he mastered the fine muscle control needed to wield a paintbrush one year later.

From then on, drawing became his passion. During his teenage years, he grew more confident and slowly developed a style of his own. He drew mainly animals – elephants were his favourite – in a playful and whimsical way.

Yet his art pieces, when completed, were stored away at home, piling up in odd corners.

His sister, Ms Sophia Tan, thought it was a pity.

She decided to come up with a platform to promote the work of Mr Tan, who is now 21, and others like him.

That was the start of The Everyday Revolution, a non-profit social enterprise she founded with two other partners – Mr Roger Ng, 28, and Ms Ong Shu-Ying, 29 – last year.

“I could feel a growing sense of frustration in him and his other special needs friends once they are done with school and wonder, what’s next?” said Ms Tan, 29, who works in the supply chain industry.

The social enterprise markets the art pieces done by nine young adults with autism by organising art exhibitions in the community several times a year.

The group also believes that art is something that can be infused into everyday life. Hence, they also work with designers to incorporate the artwork into everyday objects such as mugs, notebooks, tote bags and shirts.

Through small, persistent efforts like these, they hope to effect a bigger change when it comes to recognising the talent of artists with special needs – thus their moniker, The Everyday Revolution.

And they are beginning to take bigger strides.

Last year, they organised one of their bigger events – a fashion show featuring the work of 23 fashion designers who drew inspiration from five paintings created by the budding artists.

The collaboration with local designers was deliberate. They wanted to change the public perception of art created by individuals with special needs and showcase their work to a different audience.

“We don’t want them to be seen as charity cases because the quality of their art is there. Their abilities should be properly recognised,” said Ms Tan.

Mr Yeak Ping Lian, 20, is one budding artist working with The Everyday Revolution.

Mr Yeak has Savant syndrome – a condition whereby a person has severe mental disability but demonstrates prodigious abilities in areas such as art, memory or music.

He started out unable to even hold a pencil but now has his works exhibited in countries such as the United States, Germany and Australia. In 2004, one of his paintings sold for $40,000 at a charity auction in Malaysia.

To help youth with special needs become more independent, those who work with Ms Tan’s group get to keep most of the proceeds from the sale of their artwork.

The social enterprise also wants to raise awareness about the special needs community in general.

That is why it holds art exhibitions in community spaces such as cafes.

Its most recent major event in June saw 500 members of the public coming together to paint canvases in places such as Kith cafe, Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Financial Centre with young people with special needs.

Said Ms Tan: “We hope more people will be able to see that those with specials needs have so much more in them to give.”

From The Straits Times, 16 December 2013

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