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“Disillusioned with the commercialisation of the art world, Helen founded Hart Club on the principles of community, inclusion and collaboration.”

Hart Club founder Helen Ralli.

What is Hart Club?

Hart Club’s is an organisation that was founded in 2018 to champion neurodiversity within the Arts. We commission original artwork and content that focuses on collaboration and celebrating the intersection of ideas and differences in artistic approaches and ways of thinking. Hart Club provides a platform for artists to access creative and financial recognition for work that so often goes unseen.

Our core aims are: To champion neurodiversity in the Arts. To forge working relationships between artists. To build confidence, community and wellbeing. To gain creative and financial recognition for artists and to encourage conversation around diversity and inclusion.

Hart Club founder Helen Ralli
Hart Club founder Helen Ralli

How did you come upon the idea?

On reflection, the seed of Hart Club was planted in April 2012 when I had the honour of working with the late great artist and musician Daniel Johnston. Then, in 2017, while I was curating an exhibition which celebrated neurodiversity called Great Minds Think Different, I had the great fortune of meeting the Camberwell Incredibles. This collective is formed from a group of 12 learning-diverse adults based in a social action centre in South London, who meet twice weekly to socialise and create art. I was blown away by the innate honesty and vibrant expression that underpinned their various practices and it was the first time in a long time I’d felt excited in a visceral sense about art. In the face of this brilliance, what didn’t add up was that in the twenty or so years since forming, they had never had a public-facing exhibition in a gallery. That incongruity is what ultimately inspired the creation of Hart Club.

How do you find the artists that you work with at Hart Club?

We have a growing network of individuals we work with as well as close relationships with organisations and charities that are dedicated to facilitating disabled artists. We work closely with these groups to try and remove barriers to access creative opportunities for the people they support.

With the lack of opportunities for our community we have already become a bit of a hub. As awareness about Hart Club organically grows, more and more people reach out to us to connect. We are hoping that with the opening back up of our space (in London SE1) this Summer we will have even more opportunities to grow this creative network.

Do you think that there is a difference between art therapy and ‘proper’ art?

“I think that art is – or at least can be – extremely therapeutic both in the production and the absorption of it.”

How has your work with Hart Club impacted your view of the wider art world?

Before Hart Club I was feeling pretty jaded. I said in a previous interview: ‘There’s nothing like the commercialisation of everything to suck the joy out of something’ and I stand by that this includes art when it is handled purely as a commodity.

So many of the artists I work with now have an authenticity and innate visual language that somehow seems unweighted by the notion of external judgement and financial capital. This is a sacred thing.

It’s no secret that people who have additional needs or have different ways of communicating and behaving are often excluded from mainstream society. As a result, their creative output lies in the shadows and this is all too prevalent in the art world. The broader social implications of this kind of invisibility and lack of contact is incredibly damaging – and that is not only for those impacted directly by this exclusion but by society at large who misses out on the joy and beauty that diversity brings to life.

Hart Club Gallery
Hart Club Gallery
Artworks by resident Hart Club artists
Artworks by resident Hart Club artists

What are your future plans for Hart Club?

We are currently fundraising to launch an alternative Arts school which feels quite surreal as it’s been a dream of mine since being at Camberwell a decade ago! Even back then, art school was a pretty homogenous environment and with the tripling of fees in recent years it has become even more exclusionary.

Hart School is our antidote! It’s a 3 month Arts programme that is designed to be totally free, inclusive and accessible. The opportunity is open to adults of all ages and prioritises those who are typically excluded from similar opportunities due to financial barriers and lack of specialised support for disabled artists.

Our team has also been busy developing a fully customisable new website with features such as larger text, image only web pages and an alternative font that is specifically designed for people who are dyslexic. We are so proud of this site which was designed with the understanding that everyone is unique and therefore each visitor can choose how to view the site in the way that is best for them.

We also have a brand new online store so you can support Hart Club and the artists we work with directly while beautifying your environment!

You Must Create… access to creative opportunities for all.

Hart Club Ceramic Badge

What do we do?

Hart Club’s mission is to champion neurodiversity within the Arts.