Make Studio Goes to China, Part 3

by Jill

Gǎnxiè shàngdì jīntiān shì xīngqí wǔ! (TGIF!)

(This is the third and final post in a 3-part series, sharing highlights of my recent visit to China, on behalf of Make Studio and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations (NCUSCR). You can read the first post here. Thank you to Julia for several of the photos that appear in this series.)

In my previous post, I wrote about most of Shanghai activities with Zhu Xin’s/Julia’s organization World of Art Brut Culture (WABC). Here in this final installment of our “China series”, my goal is to wrap things up with how I shared the Make Studio message (i.e., our mission and how we and our artists put it to work) and how WABC staff and I started hatching some plans for the future.

After I observed WABC studio activities and Rita’s art class one day, Julia and I went across town to the Shanghai American Center (ShAC), a program of the U.S. Consulate that hosts lectures, movies, presentations, and other programs on U.S. history, politics, society and culture. They invite U.S. and Chinese experts and academics in a variety of fields to share their experiences. As part of an evening dedicated to art therapy and related topics, on the occasion of World Health Day, I introduced Make Studio to a full room, following a presentation about clinical cross-cultural art therapy from fellow NCUSCR Fellow Ikuko Acosta. Art therapy and community arts are still relatively new concepts and fields to China, and the audience at ShAC was eager to hear from us and posed lots of interesting (and challenging) questions.



As our staff, interns, and volunteers always do when sharing Make Studio with new audiences, I emphasized that our artists are… well… ARTISTS. This audience was very receptive to learning more about what this approach to disability arts entails, how we set and maintain boundaries between “art therapy” and the vocationally-oriented work of our studio, and how we engage the wider community to further our goals of inclusion.

The next day was a busy and exciting one for WABC — one of their periodic “Open Days” when they open their doors to staff from NGOs, funders, and other interested community members. Open Days appear to provide a great avenue for WABC to share their mission, highlights of their recent activities, share contracting artists’ work, and to generate the fresh engagement and support that all nonprofits need. During this Open Day, the schedule included Rita’s and Dong’s demonstrations of techniques they use in their arts activities (audience participation required!), presentations by me on Make Studio and WABC’s co-founder and Art Director Huang Si on Outsider Art/Art Brut, and a screening of the Long Xu’s film.

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Once again, I received fantastic questions about Make Studio, art therapy, and related topics from the audience at Open Day. In my presentation to them, I emphasized aspects of Make Studio’s model (and those of other progressive art centers) that are a bit different to WABC’s but could complement what they do. (WABC posted about Open Day on their own blog, for those who can read Mandarin.)

Less nerve-wracking for me than presenting to groups, but an equally important part of my trip, were the fascinating conversations that I had with Rita and Dong (touched on in my last post), Julia, and other WABC staff throughout my visit. In spite of language barriers, we exchanged a huge amount of information in a short period of time, and I hope they feel they learned as much as I did. I was particularly grateful that time was allotted for me to have long discussions with Beijing-based Jin Yanqing (Cynthia) and Gao Hua (Isabella) from the “WABC College team”, ably translated by Rita. We brainstormed and problem-solved about WABC’s programming, as well as their hopes to bring college-level training and more professional practices in art therapy to China. 

On my final full day in Shanghai, Julia, Huang Si, and Zhang Jie met with me over coffee to discuss how to foster broader and ongoing exchange and collaboration between WABC and American studios including Make Studio. Stay tuned for what comes next from this initial conversation!

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Our productive early morning coffee meeting. (“Early” for both me and Julia is before 10 a.m.)

My time in China drew quickly to a close upon returning to Beijing the next morning, via a return train journey that was stream-lined from my earlier practice. I re-convened for two more days with some of the other NCUSCR fellows to trade stories about how tired we were and all that we’d seen as well as strategies for cramming souvenirs into our luggage, and did some essential last-minute site-seeing. (See a few more non-WABC specific travel pictures, below.)

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Thank you everyone for coming along with me and Make Studio on this virtual journey, certainly a fave to be saved! We’re already beginning to follow up on all the knowledge gained and connections built with our new friends here, via NCUSCR, and in China. 

Boundless thanks going out to National Commission on U.S.-China Relations, World of Art Brut Culture, and especially the smart, humble, and charming Zhu Xin!!


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