Dame Denise is new IHC Patron and firm friend

May 26, 2022

Dame Denise L’Estrange-Corbet is the new Patron of IHC, an organisation she committed to long ago when she was asked to judge the IHC Art Awards in 2009.

Her immediate connection with the artists came as a surprise to her. “I had absolutely no idea what an impact not only the art, but also the artists would make on me. They are just the most beautiful people I have ever met,” she said in a 2018 interview.

Dame Denise is now looking forward to expanding her role and making a difference for many more people with intellectual disabilities.

“To be named as Patron of IHC is such an absolute honour for me. I most enjoy travelling the country and meeting with all the artists in the run-up to the IHC Art Awards. That is very special to me,” she says.

“My main aim is going to be bringing more awareness and visibility to people with intellectual disabilities, and how much they can enhance workplaces.

“I would like to see more corporate and small businesses taking on people with intellectual disabilities so they can be integrated into workplaces, and this role will give me that ability.”

The co-founder of New Zealand fashion house WORLD, Dame Denise became the IHC Art Awards Ambassador in 2016. In 2018 she called on public and private organisations to consider art projects and collaborations with artists working outside the mainstream. She said there was a need for recognition of these artists within the art fraternity too.

Dame Denise has led the charge. She met artist Joanna Lynskey at the IHC Art Awards and offered her a job. Joanna has worked for WORLD for nine years.

In 2019 Dame Denise launched a range of WORLD limited-edition canvas bags through the new WORLD Legacy Charity Project, featuring the artworks of intellectually disabled artists. Profits went to the artists and the IHC Art Awards.

In 2020 when the pandemic put paid to the IHC Art Awards gala night and auction, she held an Artists4Artists event and asked established New Zealand artists to donate artworks to raise funds for the awards, giving winners an opportunity to sell their works at Webb’s auction house.

“COVID has put paid to so many plans we had, and it has been impossible to hold any events. But now the restrictions seem to be lessening, we will be starting again.

“I believe you lead by example and, hopefully, when people can see what you are doing, and see that it is working, they too will want to come on board.

“I am so very much looking forward to a wider involvement in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. For me it is about inclusion and making them feel wanted and appreciated, as they have so much to offer. We just have to keep putting it out there until it sticks.”

IHC Group Chief Executive Ralph Jones says Dame Denise has shown enormous commitment to people with intellectual disabilities.

“Her enthusiasm and advocacy over a long period of time has been unstinting. We are delighted she has agreed to continue her support of IHC as our Patron. She’s been instrumental to the growing success of the Art Awards, travelling the country to visit and encourage intellectually disabled artists.”

In 2002 she was awarded an MNZM (Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit) for services to fashion and in 2017 she was made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to fashion and the community.

As well as working with IHC she is an ambassador for Diabetes New Zealand (Auckland) and the Mental Health Foundation.

Dame Denise takes over the role of Patron from Sir Roderick Deane and Gillian, Lady Deane, CNZM, who have championed the interests of IHC and the intellectually disabled community since 1976. Sir Roderick lobbied to get people with intellectual disabilities out of institutions and into communities.

Caption: New IHC Patron Dame Denise L’Estrange-Corbet is looking forward to expanding her role.


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members. Read the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.