“I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for.”
This quote is by Georgia O’Keeffe, an American artist who painted flowers, landscapes and buildings surrounding her home in New Mexico. It represents to me the power that art can have for telling your story or sharing an experience. You may have difficulty with the words to describe how you are feeling but a picture or a piece of music may capture your mood.
Technology offers us a way of sharing art and experiences with a wide audience. You may take photos on your smart phone and share them with friends and family on Instagram or Facebook. You may send links to your favourite songs on YouTube or upload a video of your own performance. For example I enjoy creating photo collages with an app that represents the highlights of my recent travels. I can then share this through my social networks on email or Facebook.
For people with disabilities, technology can also provide opportunities to create and experience art in a way that is more accessible. For example a piano keyboard on a tablet computer may be easier to play than a standard piano or the camera maybe easier to control from an app.
For the past three years I have been involved in a project exploring the potential of technology to enhance access to the arts and opportunities for self expression. The stARTSPEAK project was developed by DADAA, a WA-based not-for profit community arts and cultural development organisation. They created the stARTSPEAK project to explore the ways in which digital media could be made accessible through tablet or touchpad technology. The name stARTSPEAK stands for sensory touchpad –artspeak acknowledging the ability of art to communicate our emotions and experiences and to help us to connect with others. The stARTSPEAK project is a partnership between DADAA, Disability Services Commission, the Independent Living Centre of WA, Challenger TAFE and Inkubator.
The stARTSPEAK project worked with artists with complex physical, sensory and communication needs to identify strategies to engage with digital art on an iPad such as drawing, photography, and music or dance apps. My role was to assist the artist to be able to access their preferred mode of art by finding apps, suggesting mounting systems to position an iPad or providing accessories such as styluses. I hadn’t been involved in an arts project before and stARTSPEAK was an opportunity to gain a greater appreciation of the importance of art in the lives of those I worked with. The image above is an example of an artist creating a music performance on three iPads using an app called Bloom.
The stARTSPEAK project has led to the creation of a new app stARTSPEAK: Touch & Create. This West Australian produced app provides an artistic experience which combines visual arts and music. Artworks and sounds respond to touch and users can choose the artwork and sound that suits their interests. Users of the app can also share artwork they create within the app to an online gallery. This gallery can be found here.
A unique aspect of the stARTSPEAK app is that it features the works of West Australian artists with disabilities. Each artwork shares their personal story and objects important to them. The artists have earned an income from the sale of their works which contributes to their further development as artists.
As an Occupational Therapist, working on the stARTSPEAK project has provided me with a much stronger understanding of artistic expression as a form of occupation. Art is a part of our everyday lives and as OTs’ we should be looking to how we can help those we work with to access and share all forms of art.
stARTSPEAK Touch & Create is available in the App Store and on iTunes