The Art of Inclusion

On July 18th, we took to the Museum Of A History Of Ideas in UP Manila to listen to a talk on expressive arts and the kind of impact it has on the Philippine society. The afternoon’s speaker and workshop facilitator, Amos Manlangit, often integrates mandala-making in his talks and workshops, asking participants to collaborate in filling the spaces of a hand-painted template. For this particular session, Amos also offered a question prompt:

What is art to you?

It was a question simple enough to be both easily accessible and a stepping stone to deeper inquiry. To answer the question, we had to illustrate or write in our chosen space in the mandala. It didn’t matter what kind of creative background we came from, for as long as we were able to reflect on the question and form an answer with which we truly resonated. The end result was a truly beautiful and meaningful piece of collaborative work.

Whether the expressions were simple or intricate, they all found their place in the mandala. And when we stepped back and saw the bigger picture (literally), we realized we were looking at a rich representation of what unity in diversity looks like what a society might look like in acceptance of differences, in celebration of diversity, and in continuous cultivation of inclusivity.

‘Inclusion’ is most commonly defined as, ‘the action or state of including, or of being included [within a group or structure].’ In addition to this classical definition, Merriam-Webster specifically defines inclusion as ‘the act or practice of including students with disabilities in regular school classes.’ While these definitions begin to reflect the societal issues about inclusivity we face all over the world today, putting it into practice is another story.

In the expressive arts practice, inclusivity takes shape in its foundational principles of art being a companion that ‘meets you where you’re at’. Art-making becomes a process that fuels outcomes indiscriminate of any skill-level or art-form In other words, you don’t have to be good at art to engage with it. Amos talks about this as well in describing creative engagement – which is a framework he developed on how an individual’s creative development can deepen no matter what point he is in his own personal development or growth.

Creative engagement and arts-based practices do not come without challenges. The discussions at the afternoon’s talk revolved around accessibility for hard-to-reach communities and institutionalizing the practice. In our own programs, we have also experienced the intricate conversations of designing the creative experience and make it more relevant to culture, context, and character.

The rewards can weigh more when creative engagement flourishes and when we are able to embrace diversity in society the same way we appreciated diversity in the creative responses to the mandala. Our community becomes richer because it. This how art-making facilitates an inclusive practice.

Photo from ASP – Santa Rosa’s Facebook page

Aside from last July 18’s event, one of the wonderful ways we’re seeing how art-making becomes an inclusive practice is through the Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP) event held last July 20. The event they held called Healing Discoveries highlighted how they are taking strides in making integrative arts accessible to the families of kids with autism. Our morning with them at this event saw how the community came together through kids yoga, pottery, and music.

In Healing Discoveries, Expressive arts practitioner and MAGIS Communications Manager, Adi Santos, created pinch pots (and more!) with families, and articulated how its creative process can be a way to strengthen our connections with each other beyond words. Shared art-making becomes a way to be present to someone who may be living differently from the way we do. Perhaps that’s all we need to start cultivating inclusivity through the arts: the intention to connect with each other more deeply, be present with another to understand them, and nurture how we see ourselves and the world around us.

How do you think you can cultivate inclusivity in your own unique, creative way?

Catch Amos Manlangit and more practitioners advocating for inclusion, at Beyond Fun: Therapeutic Arts and Play for Children with Special Needs, our upcoming Head On Talk on Arts & Inclusion, happening this August 31.

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