Saturday Art Class: Meet the co-founder - Chhavi Khandelwal
By Chhavi Khandelwal, co-founder of Saturday Art Class.
I have a Bachelors of Architecture degree and have previously worked in programmes delivering art education in orphanages and cancer specialty hospitals. I have seen first-hand the impact of art on the lives of people facing hardships. I also have experience in the creative sector and experiential learning, having previously worked with artists and architects, which has enabled me to successfully design a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curricula for Saturday Art Class.
I was born and brought up in Mumbai. As a child, I received an education in a similar school, but never realised the lack of space for creativity and exploration. I was exposed to textbook based knowledge, whose only application was limited to passing test papers. It wasn’t until I started my journey as a graduate student of architecture, in a college that encouraged creative problem solving and application, that I realised the counter productivity of a rigid school system. I therefore spent the first two years of my graduate programme unlearning most of my childhood knowledge and working on self-awareness and self-expression. This forced me to think deeper about the gaps in education in India and further motivated me to believe that good education comes from experiences, not through academic textbooks.
As the co-founder of Saturday Art Class, I am passionate about creatively empowering young people through arts. I am also a proud Arts For Good Fellow with the Singapore International Foundation. This fellowship uses the power of arts to empower children and youth through a network of art educators, artists and art practitioners.
My proudest moment
Every story of change I witness in a child at Saturday Art Class is a proud moment for me. Each time the children not only comprehend the artwork of modern international artists like Yayoi Kusama or Van Gogh, but also embrace their art practices to express and deal with emotions they struggle with otherwise, is a moment that re-instils the belief that art has the power to transcend social, economic, cultural and political barriers and essentially become a universal language of the world.
More specifically, we have run two End of Year exhibitions at Saturday Art Class, presenting the work of over 1,200 children in year 1, and 3,000 children in year 2. I am so proud that these exhibitions received over 6,000 attendees including the children, their parents, schoolteachers, headmasters and supporters.
Dealing with failure
As a co-founder, I have had to deal with several aspects of the programme failing in the nascent stages, due to factors beyond my reach. However, I am a strong believer in setting the right intention. That becomes my guiding light/principle through all the mishaps and failures I may encounter whilst trying to achieve my intention. At the end of the day, it is important for us to understand that while no work comes easy, if your intentions are pure, you are already on the right path.
I feel that the challenges and failures I have encountered in past years have only made me more resilient and more convicted to achieve what I have set out to do. It has also made me resourceful. For example, I am constantly looking for unconventional creative ways to solve a recurring problem. They say failures are the best teachers, and I feel that, while that is certainly true, the best teacher is always YOU - and you have the solution for everything, if you are patient enough to find it.
Education is an important tool that takes us into the future, and creativity is as important as literacy to allow a child’s whole being to be educated. However, in the current context, the majority of school systems in India, even for those with a high income, are educating children out of their creative capabilities. It stigmatises mistakes and prevents the idea of “exploration.”
I believe that to address an issue in a country as large and as diverse as India, the solution to each social problem must be designed to scale. In the next 3 years, I want to build our organisation and scale our programme so that we are able to meaningfully impact 10,000 children through our intervention.
It is important to change the perception of education in India today and advocate the approach to a holistic wellbeing of children rather than the approach of educating to pass tests. Enhancing creativity through accessibility of arts and other mediums, as well as changing the perception of arts in India, is my primary personal goal for the next 3 years.
My top 3 tips for young people who starting out
In architecture school, our basic designing principle was to identify, address and solve a problem through the designing process and through collaboration. I started Saturday Art Class along with my co-founders a couple of years later, only to realise that much like the job of an architect, a social entrepreneur must cohesively work with a team and identify a need, address the underlying factors leading to the problem and design a suitable, viable solution by developing a program that demands a change in the society.
If you’re thinking of starting out, my top 3 tips for you would be:
1. Research: As young people start out with an idea, it is important to work on an informed solution through enough first and second research, taking the time to conduct surveys with potential beneficiaries to identify the need, its depth and the scale your potential solution could address. 2. Form the right team: Additionally, identifying the right people who can cohesively work on your idea and who are as passionately driven as you to achieve a common outcome is essential for an organisation to run well. An idea that involves the youth especially needs to be driven by the people, hence finding the key to make this connection is equally important. 3. Embrace failure: It is important to work with the failures encountered at an early stage. These failures act as necessary feedback while you are piloting your idea, helping you to make adjustments and put things right as soon as possible.
Article published: May 2020
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