To celebrate April 20th, the Day of the Disabled in Korea, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) met with Kim Hyun-il, the Chief Executive Ofce (CEO) of THISABLED. THISABLED is a social venture and an artist agency for the disabled that helps bring light to the talents of disabled artists in Korea. The artists signed with the agency produce pieces that vary widely in genre, ranging from oil and oriental painting to acrylics and pencil sketches. Let us hear from Kim Hyun-il to find out how and why he is working with THISABLED.
Kim Hyun-il and THISABLED
Q1. Please introduce yourself and THISABLED.
Hi, I am the founder and CEO of THISABLED, Kim Hyun-il. THISABLED is an artist agency that works with over 30 disabled artists. The company aims to foster the growth of individual artists by offering services such as artist branding, art collaborations, development and selling of art products, arrangement of art performances and shows, and art presentation services. The art presentation service refers to when the company decorates a space, such as an open lobby, with rental art pieces in accordance with clients’ requests. Several Korean conglomerates have already requested the service.
Q2. Please explain the meaning of the name of the company and how you changed the word “disabled” to THISABLED.
I used to write funny poems on Instagram in the past. I actually published my poems as well, and I think that my experience with poems had an effect in naming the company. I changed a couple of letters in the word “disabled”, which brought much bigger change in the meaning of the word. Likewise, I wish to make a greater difference in society by changing what I can little by little.
Q3. What motivated you to set-up THISABLED?
Long ago, a disabled artist used to live above my house, and that allowed me to experience and think about the disabled. After that, I visited an art exhibition by chance and happened to come across an artwork which utterly mesmerized me. Then, I waited for the artist of the work to appear and when I finally met him after waiting for hours in front of the artwork, I learned that he was disabled. Since then, I have been working to support the growth of disabled artists.
|THISABLED’s Artist Standing in front of her Artwork at an Exhibition (instagram.com/thisabled_inc)|
Q4. Among many other disabled people, what motivated you to make an artist agency specifically for those with developmental disorders?
I am the type of person who has to do what he likes to do. Being taken away by the art of the disabled with developmental disorders, for its colors and the stories behind the artworks, has caused me to work with them specifically.
Q5. What is the message you hope to deliver to our society through THISABLED?
I want to work hard to change people’s perceptions of disabilities. When I go through what I call the perception change projects, the most frequent questions I hear from others are “What is a developmental disorder?” and “The disabled can paint or draw this well?” Therefore, I want to raise awareness for developmental disorders, as well as show society that the disabled, too, have undiscovered talents that have yet to be in the spotlight. Many people are fascinated by the quality of the artwork, as shown on our website, but, I tell you, there are 3,000 more artworks that are just as high quality. Likewise, the disabled are full of talents as well.
Beyond Simple Art
Q6. What is the role of THISABLED as an artist agency?
I believe that the main role of the artist agency is to foster and support the growth of each of the signed artists. The support can include artist branding which is a process that aims to help artists be remembered by their names and their own, recognizable identity. Beyond being recognized by their painting or drawing style, we aim for them to have a stronger impact on the public. To do so, we created symbols for each artist. In fact, for our recent exhibition HEARTISM, we asked our artists to freely draw hearts the way that they wanted to draw. Some drew hearts with flowers and some drew hearts in the shape of a mermaid, creating recognizable symbols on their own. These symbols can not only stand as original works on their own, but also be drawn on other artworks for recognition like signatures.
|The HEARTISM Symbol at a Recent Exhibition & The HEARTISM Poster (thisabled.co.kr)|
Q7. How do you discover artists?
When I first discovered artists, I went to famous art exhibitions and waited for the artists to appear from early morning until when they appeared. I had no connections in the art industry, so I just had to wait. After I met with the artists, I kept on having meetings with the artists and their families and tried hard to hear and understand their wants and needs. As a result, we signed with our first artist in 2016, and since then 30 artists in total have signed with us, and none have canceled their contract. As for how the artists discover their own talents, most artists’ talents are discovered during the art therapy they participate in to treat and alleviate their symptoms.
Q8. What kinds of products does THISABLED produce?
THISABLED produces goods that can be part of our daily lives such as phone cases, passport cases, powerbanks, mugs, memory sticks, and art tables that have artworks printed on their surfaces. THISABLED also sells artists’ original artworks, of course.
Q9. What is THISABLED’s philosophy on its art products?
THISABLED encourages diversity in the genre and style of the art. To be frank, it is financially more beneficial to print just one design that is the most popular rather than diversifying designs. We, however, continue to print the less popular designs, too, to provide earnings for more artists and to reduce financial marginalization.
Q10. Are there any differences in the art production process of THISABLED that varies from other agencies because THISABLED works with disabled artists?
Yes, because we work with disabled artists, we maintain active communication with the families, mostly mothers, of disabled artists. Maintaining contact with families of the artists is important because some artists have a mental age similar to the three to four-year-old. Therefore, for example, there may occur fights that arise from emotional and intellectual immaturity between the artists when they work in a shared space. Therefore, a patron must accompany the artists at all times.
Returning Back to Society
Q11. How are you and THISABLED helping artists achieve social and financial independence?
Thirty percent of all profits raised from selling the goods return to the artists who created the art that is printed on the products. Additionally, unlike most other art agencies, all profits from the original artworks are returned to the artists. THISABLED also does not require any financial input from the artists for holding exhibitions. Moreover, THISABLED is working and aiming towards creating full- time jobs for our signed artists. Up to now, five artists have signed to be full-time employees who create art just for THISABLED in their homes. The change has allowed artists to earn a living. Additionally, the contracts of THISABLED are set in a way in which the artists may cancel their contract at any time, but THISABLED cannot. Therefore, as long as the artists want to maintain working for the company, they can do so for an unlimited time. Such a contract is possible because even if the company performs poorly financially, the artists will still receive payment through the licensing of their artworks.
Q12. When was the most memorable moment or an event you experienced while leading THISABLED?
The most memorable moments would have to be when I receive encouraging messages. Those messages include comments and messages on social media, as well as handwritten letters. The words of encouragement usually come from consumers of our product goods, attendees of our events, and the family members of our artists. Increasingly, we are receiving more and more messages from disabled artists and their families who wish to work with us. Moreover, we receive messages from the disabled in general that thank us for giving them hope by showing how the disabled can bring positive influence in our society.
Q13. What are your visions and goals for the future?
My biggest goal right now is to expand THISABLED internationally within this year. We have been working with the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) since last year, managing overseas promotional booths in countries such as Thailand and India where the locals’ reception to our art was astonishing. The Thai media enthusiastically portrayed us, and we received many art collaboration requests. We were also going to work with the ILAN Foundation for Handicapped Children and the Israeli ambassador in Korea last year, but we were limited in our employees who were busy handling other works so the project could not be continued. We wish to continue such efforts in the future, however. Moreover, while we are now an agency focused on paintings and drawings, I hope to expand our genre of art to other art fields such as sculpture and music. I want to expand our talent search and discover talented artists in additional fields.
Q14. Can you give any advice to students who are interested in a start-up?
To elaborate on my personal story, I only studied for the college entrance during my middle and high school years without really thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. Even in college, I had no clue. Then one time during the exam week, while procrastinating, I took out a sheet of blank paper and started writing down everything that I wanted to do right at that moment. My list included endless amounts of playing and chilling, but since I was doing plenty of that already, I focused on other parts of my list, which made me realize that what I really wanted to do was to create something. So starting then, I began to attend start-up seminars and visit entrepreneurship and business professors for advice on finding a start-up company. I also double-majored in entrepreneurship and went through numerous trials and errors until I founded THISABLED. Likewise, I encourage students to seriously try to find out what their heart is telling them to do, and to follow their heart.