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Selection of textile designs in reds, pinks and greens.

Meet: Ella Ritchie

Written by Eleanor Harvey
Published date 17 June 2020

Ella Ritchie graduated from Central Saint Martins (CSM) in 2000 from BA (Hons) Fine Art. Ella and her partner Sam established Intoart, a visual arts organisation which works with practising artists with learning disabilities; helping them achieve equal recognition in the world of contemporary art, craft and design. Intoart has grown to become an influential art collective, working from their purpose-built studio space at Peckham Levels in South London. Ella recently returned to UAL, to speak at Change for Good: Social Enterprises from UAL Graduates.

3 women sat on stage in front of a presentation
(L to R) Stephanie McLaren-Neckles, Shaneika Johnson Simms and Ella Ritchie. Photo by Adam Razvi Caption

Intoart works with adults across a range of different learning disabilities and the Autistic Spectrum, providing an array of support such as; an art studio and design studio programme, solo artist programmes, partnership projects with museums and galleries, collaborations,  as well as exhibitions and public events. They also have a growing archive of over 3,000 artworks.

Intoart started as a project for Ella’s postgraduate course in 2000/01. The course focused on the practical aspects of setting up an arts organisation, such as how to budget, and how to form partnerships. Recognising that access to art schools is not always possible for people with learning disabilities, Intoart was set up with the aim for people with learning disabilities to be ‘visible, established and recognised as artists’.

Large room with people working in.
Image courtesy of Intoart Caption

By creating high-quality learning experiences with access to resources and materials, the chance to gain good learning and research skills, and creating opportunities to exhibit work, Intoart challenges the low expectations of what people with learning disabilities can achieve. They currently provide 20 people with learning disabilities the opportunity to develop an art or design practice.

At the Intoart studio when there are 6 artists (with learning disabilities) they may be working with two staff members, so within this inclusive environment there is bespoke communication and advocacy for what people want to do and a framework to realise progression in their work, you just wouldn’t get that kind of resource in an art school.

Landscape photo of a room with art covering the walls
Image courtesy of Intoart Caption

Since then, Ella has successfully secured a portfolio of grants and gradually built up the organisation and number of artists she worked with; Intoart is now an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation and recognised within the field.

We have built up the organisation over the past 20 years, we’ve taken things step by step so that the integrity of the organisation stays true to where it began.

Woman presenting on stage
Ella Ritchie talking at a recent UAL alumni event. Photo by Adma Razvi Caption

The current COVID-19 situation meant that Intoart have also had to close their studio,

“Speaking to our artists, we are aware that the Intoart Studio is very much missed and we are committed to making sure it opens again as soon as possible to support independence and creativity as we come out of lockdown.”

COVID-19 has also had a long term impact too; this year marks the 20th anniversary of Intoart, and they would have been celebrating with their Change Your Mind events programme. Unfortunately, they’ve had to postpone this until 2021- so look out for more information about their events next year.

Man working in front of bookshelves
Image courtesy of Intoart Caption

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