On a hot Sunday morning, when most people are chilling at home, a group of 25 intellectually challenged youngsters are busy putting up a lively show at a bungalow-turned-school in Ahmedabad, which is being broadcast live to an audience at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Delhi. Some of them are engaged in painting, craft and embroidery in the balcony, while others make music, sing and dance to the latest rap tunes in another room. The setting is the Pearl Special Needs Foundation (PSNF) school in Paldi and the pan-India event is meant to provide a platform for neurodiverse youngsters to showcase their talent.
“Performing before an appreciative audience gives these young adults a tremendous confidence boost,” says Shalini Saran Gupta, the prime mover behind the event. “We want to position their talent in mainstream society. We’re working with hotels, hospitals and corporate houses to market their art.”
An alumnus of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, Shalini is the founder of The Art Sanctuary, a Bangalore-headquartered charitable trust that’s dedicated to empowering intellectually challenged young adults through art. Shalini’s work received a major boost on Sunday, when Adwaita Gadanayak, Director General of the NGMA, announced that he would like to make this an annual event, with all three NGMAs (and the upcoming NGMA in Kolkata) participating.
From Pune and Patna to Kochi and Vizag, a total of 19 cities participated in Sunday’s live art event, with PSNF carrying the flag for Ahmedabad. “The event was about the joy of art,” says PSNF trustee Sonia Parikh. “We did not try to showcase the ‘best’ performers because that would be falling into the mainstream trap of segregation. It was an inclusive event and all our students participated.”
Started 12 years ago, PSNF is one of the few English medium schools in Gujarat for youngsters with special education needs. The self-financed school caters mainly to an upper middle-class clientele, with students coming from as far as Himmatnagar. “Most of our students have attended mainstream schools till ninth standard, without giving the Board exams,” says PSNF managing trustee Griva Shah. “We develop and groom them in such a way that they may find mainstream employment.”
PSNF has recently participated in the internship programs of Novotel and infoAnalytica Consulting in Ahmedabad. The school provides vocational training in retail management, hospitality, data entry, sewing, assembly line work and cooking to its special needs students, who may have Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder or mild to specific learning disabilities like dyslexia, dyscalculia or dysgraphia.