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A foreign businesswoman's affinity with art in China

At an international art festival held in a Chinese village last summer, an idiosyncratically dressed Chinese woman with her hair dyed blue came under the spotlight. What made her standout was not her fancy appearance, but her mission to inaugurate an art education center, which is banking on art therapy to unlock the minds of the left-behind children of the underprivileged village.

Yashian Schauble (right) inaugurates an Arts Can Do education center in Xucun Village in eastern China's Shanxi Province. Photo: ACAF

In July 2013, Yashian Schauble invited three contemporary Australian artists to take part in an art festival held in Xucun Village in eastern China's Shanxi Province. Except for displaying their paintings, the trio's major task was to join Schauble's Arts Can Do center, a charitable art education project aimed at helping local children, most of whom are children of migrant workers, gain self-confidence and realize their potential through interaction with art.

Yet, one can hardly imagine that Schauble actually had no connection with art during her school days.

Bridging Australian and Chinese art

In the 1980s, Schauble, born in Shanghai, immigrated to Australia as soon as she graduated from a Shanghai university where she majored in mechanical engineering.

Because of her deep affection for fashion and art, Schauble, who is clubby and eloquent, registered a leather trade company in Australia. "Doing leather business for some 20 years helped me develop a good taste for fashion and art," said the successful businesswoman, who has always been galvanized by the idea that she should do something for it.

In January 2012, the high-flyer established the Australia China Art Foundation (ACAF), whose predecessor is an art studio, which was set up by Schauble for her daughter, an art student.

"Worried about my daughter's employment, I set up an art studio in Melbourne one month before her graduation. Unexpectedly, she received an invitation from her alma mater to study for a master's degree," Schauble giggled.

In the circumstances, Schauble rebuilt the art studio as a gallery to showcase the artworks created by Chinese artists. To her disappointment, the exhibitions produced little resonance with local people, which she said is due to Melbourne's biased art environment, which is dominated by Western art genres.

The fiasco prompted Schauble to found a non-profit art foundation in an attempt to promote the integration of the contemporary Australian and Chinese art and facilitating reciprocal cross-cultural exchanges between the two countries’ artists.

Yashian Schauble and artists pose for photos in an inauguration of an Arts Can Do center in Xucun Village in eastern China's Shanxi Province. Photo: ACAF

Currently, Schauble has expanded the operation of the ACAF to Chinese cities, with three offices respectively in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and a studio in the capital's Huantie Art City, which functions as an arena for art exhibition.

"Except for organizing exhibition, the ACAF has launched numerous artistic exchange projects, through which Australian and Chinese artists could communicate with each other and enlarge their interpersonal networks," said Schauble, adding that only in this way can contemporary Chinese artists make themselves understood by their foreign counterparts.

The ACAF also subsidizes the Chinese artists immigrating to Australia and helps them hold exhibitions, said Schauble, who called for Chinese big enterprises to learn from Prada to spend some funds on art, which can contribute to the buildup of the corporate culture.

Art education project for migrant children

Traveling to Chinese villages, where Schauble witnessed local children suffering the emotional deprivation disorder caused by separation from their parents working in cities, made her pay more attention to the children of migrant workers.

In order to promote such children's normal mental development, the ACAF initiated the Arts Can Do education project in Xucun Village last summer, in which three Australian artists taught them how to draw as an art therapy to help them develop correct emotional and cognitive responses to the world.

"About 70 percent of the children in Xucun Village are left-behind by their parents. If they are taught some basic painting skills, they can better express their lonely souls on the canvas. Furthermore, such an art therapy can also diagnose the sticking point of their mental disorder," said Schauble, adding that another goal of the project is to fully ignite the children's artistic creativity before it is too late.

Not allowed to simply instill Western artistic ideology to the children, the Australian artists were asked to enlighten them to explore the quintessence of their own folk art famous for paper cutting, embroidery and knitting, added Schauble.

Yashian Schauble delivers a speech at a charity auction in Beijing in November. Photo: ACAF

In November, the ACAF held a charity auction in Beijing, where artworks including ink paintings, photos and self-portraits created by children of Xucun village, masterpieces produced by famous international contemporary artists and a Hasselblad camera with the signature of astronaut Buzz Aldrin were sold, with the funds raised at the auction to be solely used for promoting the development of the Arts Can Do project.

In December, the ACAF cooperated with the Shanghai Jiu Qian Volunteer Center, a privately funded organization, which offers free courses to the children of the migrant workers in Shanghai, to open its second Arts Can Do center, where Australian and Chinese artists will give the migrant children access to creative art.

Teachers and children of migrant workers hold discussion in an Arts Can Do center in Shanghai. Photo: ACAF

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