Groundup Features: Art:Connect
Updated: Mar 24
In this edition of Groundup Features: we speak with Aanya - Founder of Art:Connect, a ground-up initiative which connects students to healthcare centres and senior care homes - through card making projects, mural painting projects, and senior buddy programmes. Hear from Aanya as she shares about the inspiration behind Art:Connect, and how her experience has been so far, volunteering with friends.
Hi Aanya, thank you for making time to speak with us! Please share with us more about yourself and your initiative!
Hi everyone, my name is Aanya Rao and I am a 15 years old student in Singapore. I am the Director and Founder of Art:Connect, a ground-up initiative that started in 2020, which connects the student art community to residents and patients of multiple healthcare centres. Our slogan is, “Art can, and will, heal the world”.
There are three projects that we have embarked on:
Cards Project Students are encouraged to submit their artwork to Art:Connect digitally. The Art Curation Team then curates these artworks into a database. From there, we feature the students’ artwork as a digital card and include a message from a member of Art:Connect.
These cards go to residents in senior care homes – finding out how their day went, letting them know we are there for them and to support them.
Senior Buddy Programme
We wanted to kickstart this programme physically but due to COVID-19, it is currently held online. We get on calls with residents from senior care homes and we do crafts and colouring – our most recent activity was an origami heart workshop. We also have a chat with them about their week.
We also designed our very own Art:Connect activity booklet, filled with puzzles and colouring sheets. We send copies of it to the healthcare centres, and they print it out to distribute to their residents.
This is a project that our team personally really loves. We have done one mural project for a healthcare centre, where we painted five huge walls. They were painted based on the core values of the healthcare centre. It was over a span of two weeks in December 2020.
This was a huge project for us, having to prime and paint the walls, as we have never done it before, but we are planning to do it with more healthcare centres!
What is the inspiration behind Art:Connect?
I am a student who is passionate about both Art and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). I absolutely love pursuing different art forms. I learnt visual arts for a long time, and I am trained in different dance forms such as Ballet, Indian classical dance, and Contemporary dance. Arts is very close to my heart and is also a safe space for me.
So, I decided to combine both of my passions to start Art:Connect. Science and Art are two things you would not expect to go together but it works very well. That is what Art:Connect aims to do – helping patients, residents, and healthcare centres with the power of Art.
While doing our research on Art:Connect, we saw that you uploaded pictures of all team members on the website! Could you share more about them?
At Art:Connect, every single team member is equally important. Whether it’s the founder or volunteer, everyone puts in the same amount of hard work. Everyone deserves the recognition. We have three different teams in Art:Connect:
We have the Outreach Team – in charge of contacting the healthcare centres. They are vocal and communicative in the way they pitch their ideas. The Director of Outreach is Siya Sharma.
We have the Communications and Marketing Team – in charge of content, website, Instagram and basically all things media management. The Director of Communications and Marketing is Urvi Chakravarthy.
Lastly, we have the Art Curation team – these are the artists of Art:Connect. The team oversees our artistically inclined projects, be it painting, drawing or any form of graphic designing. The Director of Art Curation is Kavya Nair.
And how did the core team members get started with volunteering at Art:Connect?
During the Circuit Breaker, where I had more free time to myself, I decided to put out a basic survey to find out if people wanted to see artwork in healthcare centres. I sent the survey across to all my friends and they immediately texted me back, asking what this is all about. The survey popped up out of nowhere and they wondered if I was going to do something with it.
Since I was getting a lot of interest especially from my school friends, I decided to approach a couple of them. The first person I approached was Kavya! She has always been there to help me out in many situations. I reached out to her, she was keen to join and I thought, “She’s interested so I’m sure many of my friends would be as well!”
I eventually put together a team of ten volunteers and the three Directors were part of this initial team, being my strongest support. From there on, their friends and schoolmates joined in as well which led us to our current three teams.
How does it feel, sharing this experience of volunteering with them?
I think it is so great! Initially, it was something that I wanted to achieve; something that was my dream but seeing that others had similar ambitions and visions as I, was very nice.
It is a very different experience as compared to hanging out with them at school. When working on Art:Connect projects, we are up on calls till midnight. Occasionally, we do have differences in ideas and opinions but at the end of the day, we have so much fun doing the projects and working together.
I did not expect that it would be the same team for so long because as students, we do get busy with different activities. The fact that my friends and our team has supported Art:Connect throughout the last seven or eight months is great.
Thank you for sharing about your team members. We want to find out more about you now! What was one highlight in your journey of Art:Connect?
The first time I called a healthcare centre to pitch my idea and they replied, saying it was a great idea and they would love to work with me – that was the highlight for me.
It is something I keep reliving because I cannot fathom how people want to do a project with me or my team. The fact that more healthcare centres are reaching out to us, is such a big highlight! When I see a patient or resident send an email to thank us for what our team had done, I just think that is the best thing.
And did you face any challenges?
There definitely are challenges in the space we are volunteering in.
One of the challenges was approaching stakeholders and conveying what Art:Connect is doing. When we say “Art:Connect” and pitch our projects, some stakeholders might associate it with having to do extra work. The Outreach Team has had to send quite a few email campaigns to kick off the conversation but once that is done, all is smooth sailing.
Another challenge we faced was the increase in demand for our projects! In the first or second month of Art:Connect, we had one project and needed to make only five cards for the seniors. In the month after, we had a deadline of 50 cards to be made in a week. That was a huge jump for our team, and we were relatively small compared to the demand of the project. To combat these logistical challenges, we worked on better distribution of work and better volunteer management.
Lastly, funding is a challenge we face. The first funding that we put into the website domain came from myself. For the mural project that we did recently, we were very fortunate to have the healthcare centre fund that for us. However, we are limited by the types of project we can explore because we do not have funding. This is the next goal for Art:Connect, to find grants that are suitable for us, so we can expand the kind of projects we deliver.
Have you ever felt like your age was a factor or challenge that allows other stakeholders to not take you seriously?
Thankfully, it has not! No one that I have approached, has shown less interest, or looked at us as a different organisation just because we are a group of students. In fact, that has just made them more interested in working with us.
I have spoken and pitched about the idea of Art:Connect to quite a few individuals who are in the corporate space, and everyone has taken me seriously. I have spoken to journalists, radio deejays, healthcare centres, and I am so grateful that they have taken the time out of their busy day to speak to us.
I do not think that age has restricted us in any way!
What were some lessons you took away as founder of Art:Connect?
The first lesson is that starting service and community outreach at a young age is so important. Up till I was 14 years old, I always lacked the confidence to actually implement a project of this scale. However, I have met so many awesome young entrepreneurs and innovators of similar ages in this space, because of Art:Connect. They have really shown me the power of what the youth can achieve together!
It is never too early to start community outreach. It is never too early to start giving back to society. It could be anything that your passionate about and it does not have to be very big – I think it is important that students know they can do this at any age.
Secondly, we should not be afraid to reach out to people. Go to your friends, pitch your ideas! Who knows, you might end up forming a club that will be the next big thing. No one is going to shut you down if you are confident.
And what was a lesson you learned after working together with your friends?
I personally struggled with holding a leadership position when the team members are my best friends. However, I am very fortunate because everyone respects each other and they respect the structure that we have in place for Art:Connect.
They listen to the reasoning behind my suggestion, instead of shooting down the idea immediately. When I see my teammates hearing me out, they show me that my voice matters as a leader. That encouragement from them is exactly what keeps me going!
Any advice to peers or youth who are keen to start a groundup but not sure how to go about it?
Take that step and start the groundup. Art:Connect was something that I pondered over doing for three years. I put the first business proposal at 11 or 12 years old, but I never did anything about it because (1) procrastination was a huge thing; and (2) the lack of confidence. I was not sure if I would get the necessary support.
A lot of my friends have come up to me and asked if I would support them, should they start an initiative. The answer is yes, people will support you, but the first steps need to be your own.
It could be a website, flyer, message, or social media status that outlines what you want to do and shows you asking for help. If you make that first step, someone out there will definitely be willing to help.
Narrow down your interest and find out what hits home for you. You need to figure out that one thing that is important to you. Once you narrow it down, it gives you an avenue into other individuals who are in the same space. When you decide on the kind of work you want to do, you can also decide on the problem you want to address or, change you want to bring about in the space.
You need to set a strategy and goal for yourself. Small steps such as having a website ready by the end of the month. If you set short term goals for yourself, you are working towards your own strategy on a personal front. When people witness that drive, it gives them confidence in joining you to create the team experience.
What about tips for friends who want to work together as a team?
One of the first things that come to mind is to make sure everyone is aware of what their responsibilities are. When it comes to friends, there are bound to be times when everyone wants to be the leader. Make sure that everyone is comfortable and, in a position, where they can contribute their best!
The second tip is having open discussions. Hold frequent calls with the team, so that it allows everyone a space for them to voice their concerns.
Lastly, as friends, you must figure out how to keep things a little separate. For example, my friends and I do not talk about Art:Connect in school. We have decided that even during lunch or snack time, we will not discuss what needs to be done. We save the conversation for later, during an allocated discussion time.
Maintaining the friendship balance is something we are constantly working on.
What are some of the next steps/future plans for Art:Connect?
We are looking at launching an Awareness Programme and are currently discussing it with a few hospitals. Essentially, we help spread awareness of different healthcare issues to students, using art. We are currently looking into this and hopeto be able to launch it sometime this year.
We would also like to create our own craft packages. Currently, everything is done digitally but we want to explore including different craft materials in these packages so we can give it to the seniors and residents.
Lastly, we want to publish our activity booklet as an actual bounded book. We hope to distribute it to the different healthcare centres, for them to use as a coffee book in the waiting room.
Thank you for taking time out to speak with us! Here’s our last question: How do you hope Art:Connect builds a City of Good?
I think this has two aspects to it.
For the healthcare aspect – making a positive experience for all patients and seniors. Even though the seniors are in a healthcare facility, they are at higher risk of social isolation. So, the youth needs to show more love and appreciation for these seniors.
Due to my own personal experiences, I know how tough it is to be in the waiting room. If you are a family member or a patient, waiting for your turn at the doctor’s office is quite stressful. The piece of artwork may not help to cure the illness, but it will definitely help make experience a little more bearable.
For a City of Good, we can look at getting more youth to be involved in projects like this. We want to make sure that every single voice of the youth is heard; that everyone has a chance to share their ideas. This is exactly what Art:Connect is trying to do. We are super youth-centric – all the projects are conducted by the youth and all the results are seen by the youth! That is how we hope to build a City of Good – to target an issue that is important in the society and get future generations to work together on the solution.
Bonus fun-fact question: Team Coke or Team Pepsi?
Team Coke for sure! I know it’s super unhealthy but #guilty pleasures.
* This feature has been edited for clarity