HeadstArts is a novel and worthwhile project which offers a Special Olympics model to intellectually disabled people who excel in the arts more than sport. As such it was a worthy winner of this year’s Enactus Awards.
While the Special Olympics are heralded around the world as a great initiative, they are exclusionary: not everyone is interested in sport. Up to now, there has been no outlet for intellectually disabled people with an artistic flair to compete with their peers.
HeadstArts is a new student-based DCU initiative which has the potential to go global. The group offers drama, dance and art workshops for people with intellectual disabilities. While one can be artistic – in any medium - without joining a club or society, HeadstArts gives intellectually disabled people a platform to meet like-minded people and explore their inner Picasso. “In Ireland there are 27,500 people with intellectual disabilities,” explains Liam Redmond, founder of HeadstArts, who is in his final year of an Irish and Business based Arts degree at DCU. “The Special Olympics have 11,000 members. So that leaves around 15,000 people with no creative outlet.”
22-year old Redmond has volunteered with the Special Olympics for the last seven years in his hometown of Wicklow. “I hate sport,” he says. “But I found myself coaching basketball, which is ridiculous. I wanted to start something for people with intellectual disabilities who, like me, are creative but aren’t into sports. So I figured, why not develop an arts programme? I set up a club in DCU which takes advantage of the skills in drama, music and art already found in the clubs and societies on campus.” In a nutshell, HeadstArts is an arts club for people with intellectual disabilities. DCU Arts students are on hand to provide guidance and support for people interested in drama, music and art.
Like the Special Olympics, HeadstArts has a competitive element to it. Without this Redmond says, it would just be a ‘pity party’. “It’s better to give participants realistic goals,” he says. So 22 participants took part in a 12-week programme where DCU students offered their time and expertise to provide training in all artistic areas. Redmond’s efforts helped to win DCU its second Enactus Award in a row. Sponsored by - among others - KPMG, Enactus is an “international, not-for-profit organisation which encourages university students to make a positive difference to their communities, while developing the skills to become socially responsible business leaders of the future.”
Competing in the finals against teams from Trinity College Dublin, University of Limerick and NUI Maynooth, the DCU team won for their demonstration of applied “business concepts and an entrepreneurial mindset to social challenges, equipping communities with the skills and tools to transform themselves.” The DCU Enactus Team will now be representing Ireland at the Enactus 2013 World Cup in Cancun, Mexico next year.
This award isn’t just tokenistic. It furnishes Redmond and his team with the resources to expand HeadstArts. “We won €10,000 worth of seed money, free office accommodation in DCU innovation campus, and free accommodation on campus till September 2014,” he says. “We have also been assigned a business mentor. With the seed money we plan to open up four clubs – one in Enniscorthy Co Wexford, one in Wicklow town, and two in Dublin.”
HeadstArts had a showcase and official launch in May of this year at Clontarf Castle hotel. Fergus Finley of Barnardos and Senator Gillian Van Turnhout were in attendance as was Dr Claire Bohan, director of DCU Student Support and Development. Various members of the DCU HeadstArts club performed including a short original play. In addition there were dance routines, and art work was exhibited. “Some people say clubs like these only serve to encourage segregation even more,” says Redmond. “Like everyone else in life, some people with special needs don’t need any extra help. But some do and HeadstArts is there to help those who need some support to build up their confidence and move their art into the mainstream. One of the artists from our pilot group, Diarmuid Kilbride, is now going onto to showcase his own independent exhibition later this year.”
As far as Redmond is concerned, the sky is the limit for HeadstArts. “People say I’m crazy but I think it will become as big as the Special Olympics,” he says. The DCU Enactus team - which included Hannah Dobson, Liam Redmond, Lye Ogunsanya, Ciara Ennis, Cíara Egan and Katie Mannion – had a second social enterprise on their books. Akidwa Design is a project in partnership with migrant women’s NGO Akidwa. They have created an ethical clothing line for migrant women who learn to design clothes and jewellery through workshops. For more info on HeadstArts go to: headstartsirl.weebly.com