|ART+ encourages artists to spend time with autistic and mentally challenged children. Photos Provided to China Daily|
"What charity and art have in common is sharing," says Li Lai-nga, 35, an artist and founder of ART+.
On Aug 24, the group held its first charity event SHARE via ART with Shenzhen Min Ai Disabled Children's Welfare Center, to raise money and awareness for autistic and mentally challenged children. About 30 percent of the artworks' sales were donated to the Min Ai center.
She says some artists are not only interested in financial reward but are also keen to share their artworks with others, especially young artists, and that is why she put art and charity together.
Li started ART+ with a partner in June to provide individual artists with venues or financial support to hold exhibitions. In return, artists are encouraged to participate in charitable events and help local communities in need.
Li was born in a business family. The family company, Kord, has been in the party goods manufacturing business for about 40 years. As a young girl, Li was asked to work in the factory over her summer vacations, to experience the life of a normal worker.
Though she hasn't inherited the family business, she admits she has learned a lot from her father.
In 2009, when she was employed in Shenzhen, she and her friends helped some orphan villages in her spare time. With a degree in design, she now works as an independent graphic designer and mixed media artist.
Being a new organization, it was not easy for them to locate a venue for their first event. Some companies asked for 10,000 yuan ($1,600) to rent a venue for a week.
We could not afford that much," Li says, until a local design company stepped in and sponsored their venue.
The opening ceremony turned out fine with more than 100 guests showing up, raising more than 5,300 yuan.
The second event, a workshop, was held on Sept 1, encouraging artists to teach kids in the Min Ai center and spend time with them.
"I do not want to just raise money, but I want people to go there and spend time with the kids to understand what autism is and to mentally challenge kids," Li explains.
Li believes that autistic children are not different from others. "They are just normal children, with a special gift," she says.
She says that these children need extra care and guidance.
Her co-workers are attracted by Li's charisma and optimism.
"She is an interesting, charming, fun and benevolent lady," says Wu Zhimin, a Shenzhen artist attending the event.
Lana Koshel, co-founder of ART+, is also an active member of a charity group called Village Progress.
Koshel says: "It's not so often you meet people with the same goals and similar point of view. She has a great personality and unique charisma."
Currently the group's 13 artists only help with the Min Ai center. Some other orphan villages refused their help, saying that ART+ is a new group without a relevant certificate.
The organization is still running on sponsorship, donations and Li's savings. Looking toward the future, Li says that she still has a lot to do.
"We are ready to have other orphan villages participate. Hopefully we will have more stable volunteers, with a clear schedule and steady sponsorship."