Special needs artists take centre stage at virtual art auction after boost from public speaking lessons

Mr Daniel Foo interacting with the special needs artists at Arts@Metta virtually. PHOTO: CAG

SINGAPORE - Eight special needs artists, who were total strangers to public speaking, surprised an audience of more than 100 people when they presented their paintings confidently at a live virtual art fair.

Some of them also put on live song and dance performances.

The virtual show was the culmination of six weeks of effort by the Changi Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Changi Airport Group, in December 2021 to teach special needs artists from Arts@Metta to develop public speaking skills as part of their signature art programme.

Arts@Metta is an art collective for autistic or intellectually disabled artists who have graduated from Metta School specialising in artisan crafts such as batik painting and pottery.

This programme was the brainchild of Mr Daniel Foo, senior manager for design management and art custodian of the airport's sprawling art collection, including the famous Kinetic Rain sculpture in Terminal 1.

Mr Foo, an avid art lover, said: "Although these artists are already quite proficient in batik painting, being a professional artist is not just about making good art, but also being able to communicate what your art is about to others."

"I wanted to teach them this important life skill so that they can use it to propel themselves further ahead in life."

In August 2021, Mr Foo and 14 other volunteers from the foundation held weekly virtual training sessions for the artists over six weeks.

During these sessions, the artists were given lessons by Mr Foo, who expanded their knowledge about art by discussing famous artworks by Singaporean artist and Cultural Medallion recipient Lim Tze Peng and also those by American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly from his Glass in Bloom exhibition at the Gardens by the Bay.

After these lessons, the students were sent off into breakout rooms with volunteers, where they were challenged to communicate what they had learnt during the lesson using the 5W1H technique - why, what, when, where, who and how.

The students would then return to the main room and present live to the class.

Last November, the artists reconvened for rehearsals, where they were coached to look at the camera, where to stand, and how to present themselves.

All this preparation eventually led to the successful virtual art fair, with more than $4,000 raised from the sale of eight artworks from each of the participants and 30 other products.

A special needs artists from Arts@Metta presenting his artwork at the live virtual art fair. PHOTO: CAG

Ms Jozie Keok, 28, one of the eight special needs artists from Arts@Metta, said: "I was so excited to be able to share about my artworks, and rehearsed my lines very hard.

"Thank you to Teacher Daniel and everyone from the Changi Foundation team for believing in us and making this event so fun."

Ms Stephanie Goh, an assistant manager at Arts@Metta, said: "We are so impressed by the transformation of the artists as they slowly opened up and became more confident presenters."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.