Five Tips for Art Teachers Working with Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

By Bev Johns

Estimates show that 46 million children are impacted every year by trauma. The content and processes of art education can play a vital role in the education of children who have experienced trauma, are at-risk, are homeless, and/or are incarcerated. As educators, we must be very sensitive to the needs of children who have experienced trauma and better understand why they may behave in the way they do.

In order to establish positive rapport and to meet the needs of children who have experienced trauma, we must gather as much information as possible about what types of trauma they may have experienced. That may be possible because we have learned about their background or the child has told us. However in some cases we may not know what has happened to the child until an incident occurs and we investigate what may have caused him or her to behave in a particular way.

1. Learn as much as you can about the child’s background without being invasive with the child. We must be careful that we are not asking too many questions of the child. They may be guarded and afraid that someone will find out something that will get them into trouble. Art teachers can learn a great deal through observations, keeping their eyes and ears open, talking to previous educators, and reading past records. We must be vigilant and when students have unusual reactions to specific events or rooms or noises, we need to explore the reasons for those reactions.

When children build trust with the art teacher, then they may give verbal or non-verbal clues about their behavior. Teachers must be good detectives to determine what is happening with the student. You may learn that you or your colleagues remind the child of the person who abused them, or trigger another traumatic memory.

2. Avoid surprises with children who have experienced trauma. Remember that they are on heightened alert and are worried about what might be happening next so we should not come up from behind students. In some cases we may want to seat these children so that no one is behind them. While some teachers like to turn lights off when children become noisy, this isn’t advisable for some children that were locked in a dark room. A high level of noise might trigger a reaction from a child because he remembers the loud noise when his brother was shot on the street in front of his house.

3. When planning activities, think ahead about what impact the activity might have on the student. Even activities that an art educator might perceive as straightforward or simple can become loaded due to a child’s traumatic experience. Offer choices to students about what they can create to help avoid triggering bad memories. For instance, children who have been recently removed from their families or placed in foster care might struggle with assignments that involve drawing or painting their family; it is helpful to offer another option for the assignment.

4. When planning activities, be cautious about the materials you use. The child may have been hurt with a particular object so you would want to avoid an activity where the same object is used. The child may have limited clothing or may have been beaten if their clothes got dirty. In that case, the art teacher will want to provide students the option of wearing protective clothing when utilizing art materials that may get on clothes.

5. Make sure that your art room is a safe and happy place for the child. Create an environment in the art room where lots of positive feedback is given, the child is recognized for his or her strengths, and the child knows that the teacher will not allow them to be bullied in any way. The teacher must be supportive and engage in active listening with the student. Rather than devaluing what the child says, gather more information. When the child says, “I can’t do that,” the teacher can say, “How can I help you?” When the child says, “This is too hard,” the teacher can say, “Can you tell me why,” or “Let’s try this together.”

The art room is the place where there are no right or wrong answers, It is a place where children have multiple opportunities to be creative, express their feelings, and experience success.

Photo of a smiling woman with short, blonde hair wearing a red jacket, black shirt, and round gold earrings.

 

Bev Johns is a Professional Fellow at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois. She has worked with children with significant emotional and behavioral disorders for over 35 years and is the author of 20 books in the area of special education.

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Helping Arts Educators Understand and Prepare for a Spectrum of Traumatic Experiences

Research shows that traumatic experiences impact a child’s ability to learn and process information, and traumatic experiences can affect student behavior in and out of the classroom. Unfortunately, educators are often unaware of which students have experienced trauma; this is especially true for arts educators, who may have limited access to student IEPs or knowledge of social/emotional concerns that impact students’ lives. But according to Dr. Lisa Kay, Chair of the Art Education and Community Arts Practices Department at Tyler School of Art/Temple University, art teachers and teaching artists can prepare for and better serve students who have experienced trauma by learning more about the spectrum of trauma and its invisible effects.

Photo of a smiling woman with white hair, wearing a gray jacket and silver pendant necklace. Photo credit: Amy Ragsdale

Dr. Lisa Kay

“I say there is a ‘spectrum of trauma’ because when we think of trauma, we often think of a dark place, things like physical or sexual abuse, but trauma for a child can also be the loss of a parent. It can be divorce,” says Kay, who has over thirty years of experience as an art therapist and art educator. She adds that trauma can be compounded by things like poverty or disability, adding to the spectrum of experiences.

Kay says that one of the most important things an art educator can do in preparation for working with students who have experienced trauma is to recognize that we have all experienced trauma of some sort in our lives. She explains, “Understanding that we have all experienced trauma and witnessed resilience helps develop compassion and empathy for our students. It also makes the idea of working with students who have experienced trauma less daunting.”

For teaching artists who may be entering the classroom with little or no information about the students they are teaching, Kay offers a few practical suggestions. “Think about how you move around students. It is never a good idea to come from the back and hand materials over a student’s head because that can seem scary,” she says. Kay also encourages teaching artists to find support in the classroom teacher. “Ask questions,” she urges, “Is there anything you need to know about this class or a particular student?”

Arts educators should be prepared to make accommodations and modifications to their lessons when working with students who have experienced trauma. “We may want to ask questions differently or assess students differently,” explains Kay. She also points out that students who have experienced trauma may need more physical and emotional space than their peers, and emphasizes the importance of listening to them and allowing them that space.

Kay has a background in fine art and design, and when asked if she recommends any lessons that work well with students who have experienced trauma, she immediately mentions bead collages. “With bead collages, or story beads, students create a wearable piece, three dimensional object, or even a small installation using beads and found objects together to tell a story,” she describes. Kay adds that while the final piece is often very pleasing for a student to see, the tactile process of putting it together is equally satisfying. She explains, “The objects can help children connect to deeper meanings. Plus, the process is easily adapted for different ages and abilities, and the materials, things like costume jewelry and recycled materials, are easily accessible.”

Working with students who have experienced trauma can be challenging for an arts educator, but an arts classroom can also be where that child finds compassion, creative growth, and a stronger sense of self. “As arts teachers, we must be as supportive as we can of our students,” encourages Kay, “and try to remember that we are all part of a collective spectrum of trauma.”

 

Dr. Lisa Kay is Chair of the Art Education and Community Arts Practices Department at Tyler School of Art/Temple University. She is a contributor to Art for Children Experiencing Psychological Trauma (pub. April 2018) and is writing on a book entitled Therapeutic Approaches to Arts Education (anticipated pub. late 2018).

Five Tips for Working with Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disturbances

By Sophie Lucido Johnson

Emotional and Behavioral Disturbances can take myriad forms. Some students act out in the classroom, while others turn inward and demonstrate quietly self-destructive behavior. The tips below are guidelines for using visual arts as a tool to help students establish their own self-worth as they move forward in multiple school settings.

  1. Celebrate small successes. Just picking up a paintbrush and creating a simple line can be an accomplishment for some students. Be sure to mention and honor students’ willingness to engage in basic artistic tasks, and don’t push too hard toward form or function at first.
  2. Know that progress does not travel in a straight line. It’s normal to see bursts of success and then periods of emotional unrest. If a student has a meltdown, it doesn’t mean she isn’t growing. Expect hills and peaks, and normalize relapses.
  3. Use abstract art. Shapes and lines that don’t have to resemble something specific offer the kind of freedom that can be tremendously liberating for students with emotional disturbances.
  4. Allow variant workspaces. Sometimes students like to work under tables or in corners; many children work best outside or in particular rooms. Experiment with spaces to find the ones that make your students feel safest and most creative.
  5. Don’t punish. Many children with EBD are used to being punished for “doing things wrong,” which can be a trigger for meltdowns and behavioral disruptions. Let art be the one class where students can’t get things wrong. Use neutral language when students don’t follow directions.

 

Sophie Lucido Johnson is a writer, comedian, educator, and artist. Her article “Emotional Intelligence Through Art: Strategies for Children with Emotional Behavioral Disturbances” is published in 2013 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Exemplary Programs and Approaches.

Five Tips for Using Embodied Storytelling to Build Student Vocabulary and Communication Skills

By Arianna Ross

Embodied Storytelling is an art form utilizing the body and voice to tell, analyze, and create a “story.”  Its process directly leads participants into comprehension of the material they have embodied. In its presentation in the classroom, a teacher will use a combination of dance, storytelling, drama, and visual art elements to teach various subject matters.

Having students move and speak in front of their peers builds self-confidence, body awareness, and vocal strength. The tips in this article, originally developed in collaboration with Suzanne Richard, Open Circle Theater, and Story Tapestries, provide effective tools for increasing a student’s ability to comprehend and effectively use vocabulary through arts-integrated instruction.

The strategies listed below are inherently accessible to multiple types of learners and are consciously inclusive, regardless of students’ developmental or physical abilities. These educational tools, geared at students in preschool through 8th grade, can also be used to tie into STEM, language arts, writing, and socio-emotional learning. A teacher can utilize these tips in various subjects, using a combination of dance, storytelling, drama, and visual art elements. The tips also serve to allow teachers to assess knowledge and students to demonstrate their ability to communicate clear, creative ideas both verbally and non-verbally.

 

  1. Act out everyday words to jump start learning. We encourage students to focus on increasing their “Power Words,” which are any words that empower students to feel more confident about their vocabulary. They can do this by acting out, vocalizing, and visualizing vocabulary they see and experience on a daily basis. Additionally, the meanings of simpler words are reinforced as they are being physically and mentally learned.
  2. Utilize partners to explore words and ideas. For students who find it difficult to move, we have found it valuable to employ a “Gesture Partner” who models and speaks to their partner about how to move to reflect the meaning of a word; if this student is comfortable with being touched, the partner can move the student’s arms for them. Likewise, students with difficulties in speaking can use a “Voice Partner” to verbalize ideas. This partnership can be employed in games that provide exercises in mirror imaging, body or voice sculpting, and puppet play (in which one person is the marionette and the other is the puppeteer).
  3. Consider introducing one step or one exercise per day. For example, spend a day using your voice to play with a word. The next day, ask students to turn off their voices and show the word, and on the third day, practice putting word and gesture or movement together. Once students have broken it down into pieces multiple times, they will be able to do all three activities at once. Also, it is helpful to draw a picture of the word so diverse types of learners have a visual, kinesthetic, and audio demonstration of the meaning of the word.
  4. Physicalize words. Model and use tableau (a grouping of motionless figures, representing a scene from a story, painting, or from history; also, known as a tableau vivant) to teach a specific concept, in this case, vocabulary. It is important to model one word before you have students create their tableaus alone. Tell them that although a tableau is a frozen picture, they will be moving into their tableau from a neutral position. Their movement should not be robotic, but should illustrate the meaning of the word just as the tableau does. Once they do freeze, their tableau should clearly demonstrate the meaning of the word.
  5. Connect words and story one section at a time. It is important that when you apply the acting out of words to develop students’ understanding of a story, you read through the story one section at a time, repeating it using multiple strategies. This is especially useful for students with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities. Just as it takes time to explore words with voice and gesture before putting them together (see tip 3), it is important to break stories into a beginning, middle and end. Also, it is helpful to draw out a story with students so they have a visual, kinesthetic, and audio demonstration of the meaning of the words.

 

_MG_6147Story Tapestries and Arianna Ross create international, dynamic programs that weave the power of dance, music, theatre, and spoken word. For 20 years, Arianna has performed and taught students and teachers across the United States and Asia at festivals, concert halls, colleges, libraries, and schools and for organizations such as the National Writing Project @ West Virginia University, East Tennessee State University, Hillwood Museum, and Washington Performing Arts. She is also a contributor to the book Storytelling Strategies for Reaching and Teaching Students with Special Needs.

For more information on Embodied Storytelling, check out our 2015 interview with Arianna Ross and Suzanne Richard.

 

Breaking Down Barriers Through Storytelling: an Interview with Sherry Norfolk

Picture of a woman in a black shirt and necklace, with short, light brown hair, smiling with her arms crossed.

Sherry Norfolk

Sherry Norfolk is an award-winning storyteller, author, and teaching artist. She performs and leads residencies and workshops internationally, introducing children and adults to story making and storytelling. She is also the co-author and co-editor with Lyn Ford of a new book, Storytelling Strategies for Reaching and Teaching Students with Special Needs. Here, she discusses the value of storytelling in the classroom, the motivation for the book, and how educators can start using storytelling with students with disabilities.

 


VSA and Accessibility
: What is special about using storytelling in the classroom?

Sherry Norfolk: Storytelling provides instant response. Looking at children and telling them a story orally, making eye contact, I can see an instant response and respond to that immediately. I see a big grin and I can put more of whatever spurred that in. I see confusion, and I can slow down, define. Instant response is really powerful.

Our human brains are hard wired for story. The oral stories that we use are really effective and efficient because the mind translates the sensory detail. The gestures, facial expressions, movement, pitch, volume, and tone of voice we give all help students to comprehend without additional mechanisms.

 

 

VSA and Accessibility: How can storytelling be especially effective in reaching students with disabilities?

Sherry Norfolk: Storytelling breaks down barriers; it engages everyone. Kids’ bewilderment and frustration turn to understanding and wonder, making them part of classroom. Last week I was in a high school classroom with students with multiple disabilities. Most students could not talk and several could not move, but all could participate in one way or another in retelling stories; they could demonstrate understanding.

My co-editor, Lyn Ford, recently shared an anecdote with me about working in an inclusive classroom. She was using a poem and had kids acting out different parts of its story. One of her fourth grade students said it was the best storytelling she ever did. She was a leaf blowing around, but she understood she was telling a story in her actions.

 

VSA and Accessibility: What was the motivation behind your new book?

Sherry Norfolk: Lyn Ford and myself both work in storytelling in inclusive and self-contained classrooms. Teachers saw over and over again how incredibly powerful storytelling is as a tool for students with disabilities, and they often asked where they could learn more strategies. Unfortunately there were very few resources available that really focused on using storytelling with students with disabilities.

We set out to fill that void. Since the children we work with are very diverse, and the perspectives storytellers come from are very diverse, we wanted to have as many perspectives as possible in the book. We went to the best story teaching artists we know around the world and asked them for their very best material; all said yes without hesitation. Everyone wanted to share their expertise because they know how much teachers and their students need it.

 

VSA and Accessibility: What would you recommend to an educator who wanted to start using storytelling in their classroom?

Sherry Norfolk: If possible, bring a professional storyteller in—someone who is used to working in the classroom—so the teacher can see before his or her eyes the transformation that is possible. If they cannot do that, teachers can start by finding a story they know and telling that story with voices and actions. Get rid of inhibitions, look kids in their eyes, and let them know you are there together. Find a way to involve students in the story. Use puppets, voice, and movement to help develop and demonstrate understanding. But above all, jump in with absolute confidence that storytelling will work and let your students know you are enjoying this and they will too!

 

For more information on storytelling, check out Sherry Norfolk’s Tips for Using Storytelling to Engage Students with Disabilities, originally published in the October 2014 VSA Update newsletter.

Digital Storytelling Program Empowers Students with Disabilities

A young woman operates a video camera outside while others look on.

Students operate video cameras as part of the OCCTAC program.

At the Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center (OCCTAC), a year-long program in technology, arts, and inclusive leadership training offered youth with disabilities an opportunity to use digital storytelling as a tool for self-empowerment. The program, held quarterly from October 2016-August 2017, taught high school juniors and seniors fundamentals of art, video production, and self-advocacy.

Pheobe Stanciell, After School Arts Coordinator at OCCTAC, says that many of the students came into the program with no prior experience in art, so the first sessions featured lessons on the elements of art and color. Then the students explored the basics of video production and technology. Next, the program leaders started a conversation with the students about what it means to have a disability, the differences between advocacy and self-advocacy, and how they address challenges they face.

Stick figures drawn on yellow sticky notes, arranged in two rows of four notes.

An example of a storyboard created by students at OCCTAC.

Armed with their new knowledge, the students broke into teams and created their own original short film projects. Stanciell says storyboarding was an important part of the students’ creative process. “Our teaching artist showed the students how to create a storyboard collaboratively by giving the students sticky notes and encouraging them to contribute to their team’s story by writing or drawing on their note. It was a great and flexible way for each team to work together since the notes could be easily rearranged as their story unfolded,” she explains.

The conversations that happened during the self-advocacy lessons inspired many of the students’ films. According to Stanciell, many of the film projects tackled topics like bullying of students with disabilities and how to stand up for your peers. She adds, “Some students walked away from the program saying, ‘I might want to do video editing or be a camera operator professionally,’ and that’s exciting. But everyone also leaves with increased self-confidence and leadership skills to help prepare them for the future.”

Announcing the 2018 VSA International Young Soloists Call for Entries

 

A photograph of the back of a young woman in a green dress with shoulder length brown hair as she sings on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.Each year, the VSA International Young Soloists Competition recognizes outstanding young musicians with disabilities, ages 14-25. These emerging musicians from around the world receive a $2,000 prize, professional development activities, and the opportunity to perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. If you or someone you know is interested in applying for the 2018 VSA International Young Soloists Award, check out these application tips before submitting your entry:

  1. Upload high quality, live recordings. Professional recordings are not necessary. Video recordings are recommended but not required. If you are using accompaniment, it should be live and not pre-recorded.
  2. Submit pieces that showcase your proficiency as a musician. Please choose selections focusing on your primary instrument regardless of whether you play multiple instruments.
  3. Variety is encouraged. We encourage you to submit selections by different composers showcasing facility with different styles or eras of music.
  4. This award is for excellence in performance, not songwriting or composition. Original compositions may be submitted, but will not augment your score. Select pieces that showcase your technical skill, artistry, and musicianship as a performer.
  5. Carefully review all elements of your application before submission. Applicants will not be notified if components of their application are missing.

You can find more information about the 2018 VSA International Young Soloists Competition on the Kennedy Center’s website. Application materials should be submitted no later than February 7, 2018. Questions about the VSA International Young Soloists Program can be sent to VSAinfo@kennedy-center.org.

Seven Tips for Using Storytelling to Engage Students with Disabilities

By Sherry Norfolk

Storytelling is a natural, organic way to engage students with cognitive, physical, and emotional disabilities in story-making and story-sharing. Here are a few tips:

  1. Make it multi-modal. Storytelling provides opportunities for the teller to use meaningful facial expression and body language, expressive character voices, sound effects, and audience interaction – making the stories accessible to auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners.
  2. Note audience response. This feedback allows you to differentiate accordingly – moving the action away from some students and towards others, for example. You’ll be surprised what you learn!
  3. Call it storyMAKING rather than story writing. Take the onus off of the mechanics and put the emphasis on the creativity and fun! Stories can be made and shared with pictures, puppets, in creative drama, orally, with props, students’ own tools, or adaptive technology.
  4. Model, model, model. Model the process of generating a story, first by telling a story with a clear pattern (think folktales here), then using that pattern to lead the group in brainstorming new characters, settings, and so on.
  5. Tell the resulting story – then let the class explore it through creative dramatics, puppets, etc., until it’s clear that the pattern is understood. Students can then work separately or in pairs to generate their own ideas and present their story to the class in whatever way they choose.
  6. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Research tells us that kids will continue to ask for the same story as long as they “need it” – emotionally, intellectually, socially – so tell it again, and make up more new versions together!
  7. ENJOY!

 

Picture of a woman in a black shirt and necklace, with short, light brown hair, smiling with her arms crossed.

 

Sherry Norfolk is an award-winning storyteller, author, and teaching artist. She performs and leads residencies and workshops internationally, introducing children and adults to story making and storytelling. www.sherrynorfolk.com

Electrify! Exhibition Features 15 Outstanding Young Artists with Disabilities

Since 2002, the Kennedy Center and Volkswagen Group of America have teamed up for the VSA Emerging Young Artists Program, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program, to recognize and showcase the work of emerging young artists living with disabilities, ages 16-25, who are currently residing in the United States. Electrify!, the 16th exhibition presented as part of the VSA Emerging Young Artists Program, gives 15 young artists the opportunity to display their work in venues across the United States where each artist’s individual talent, mode of expression, and view of the world is showcased and valued.

Electrify! is a conduit for creative reflection on personal and shared histories, from revisiting formative events in one’s childhood, to strengthening a community and sense of belonging. These 15 artists give us examples of how art can be used to understand and rewrite narratives; they explore the triumphs and tensions of the “now,” and invoke unity and inclusivity.

With this traveling exhibition we aim to give visibility to the work of artists with disabilities throughout the United States, positioning them to broaden our understanding of disability and the arts. We believe that art should excite our senses, awaken our curiosity, and electrify our very being. Art has the ability to empower the artist and viewer alike, but just as important, it can spark empathy and ignite understanding.

 

Trinity Kai, Grand Prize Award
Insight, 2016
Gum bichromate over palladium (17 in x 24 in)

Trinity Kai turns the camera on herself to create images that speak to spirituality, identity, and feelings of alienation. She was born with oculocutaneous albinism, a genetic condition that results in poor vision and over-sensitivity to light, but her visual perceptions are only part of what drives the mysterious and ephemeral mood of her photographs. Kai grew up in a strict religious household, where any choice made outside the doctrine was criticized. In making this work, she creates her own spirituality through the transformation and analysis of those memories. Kai uses a large format camera equipped with a pinhole lens, which requires a long exposure time—and for Kai as the model, an unblinking eye. Kai prints the images using nineteenth-century photographic processes that impart a luminous and painterly quality to her work that complements the electrifying quiet of Kai’s gaze.

Kai received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Photography at University of North Texas in Denton, Texas.

 

Summer Mason, First Prize Award
Stills from Copper, 2017
Digital video 

In the short film Copper, dancers float in and out of focus in a kaleidoscope of color and movement in an intimate interpretation of black experiences and narratives throughout America. In each of the film’s five sections, director Summer Mason explores the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The driving force behind the film is a quest to shift the current focus on the black experience from a place of brutality and violence to a place of healing and artistic freedom. Mason, who has bipolar disorder, wrote Copper over the course of several manic depressive episodes, and the film’s transcendence of reality reflects these hallucinatory experiences.

Mason was born and raised in Los Angeles, and earned a bachelor’s degree in Film and Media Studies at University of California, Berkeley. They live and work in Oakland, California.

 

Haley Macherone, Second Prize Award
Hold for Inspection
Mixed media sculpture (24 in x 24 in x 24 in)

At age seven Haley Macherone was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary tics that are frequently uncomfortable and distressing. Her work is informed by her investigations into her identity as an artist with a disability, and is driven by her need to understand what elements shaped who she is. Through her sculptures, which depict memories blended with fiction, Macherone delves into her childhood with a mix of humor, uncertainty, and wonder. The figure in Hold for Inspection is at once Macherone’s childhood self, full of innocent curiosity, and her adult self, who has an awareness of the potentially dangerous contents of the crate. Macherone invites us to contemplate the act of looking: into our past and into a larger unknown. She shows us that our experiences appear changed through the act of remembering, and over time can come to have new meaning and importance.

Macherone earned her associate degree in Fine Art from Hudson Valley Community College in 2015, and completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Maine College of Art in May, 2017. She lives and works in Portland, Maine.

 

Brianna Beck, Award of Excellence
Negotiating Space: Othered by Design, 2017
Rip stop nylon, vinyl, PVC pipe (108 in x 48 in x 48 in)

Brianna Beck uses elements of scale and spatial incongruity to address the social model of disability—the idea that individuals are far more inhibited by their physical environment and social stigma than they are from their bodies or minds. Her work is both playful and provocative, and focuses on how these interactions with our physical and social environments contribute to an individual’s sense of self. Negotiating Space: Othered by Design aims to communicate the experience of hyperawareness of one’s body in a vulnerable space. As a woman with skeletal dysplasia and anxiety/depression, Beck’s work investigates the intersection of physical disability and mental illness, spatial incongruence, and femininity within disability.

Beck received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication from Ball State University in 2013 and is currently pursuing her Master of Art in Art Therapy and Counseling at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

  

Taylor Bielecki, Award of Excellence
I’m Bringing Hell to You, 2017
Oil on canvas (36 in x 48 in)

Taylor Bielecki’s I’m Bringing Hell to You is both startling and seductive. It Pulls viewers into an otherworldly carnival scene that hinges on the delirious and hints at a world of dystopian unease beyond the frame. Her paintings, which are often inspired by classic literature and cinema, are full of frantic energy conveyed by fast brushstrokes, glossy highlights, and strong contrasts. Bielecki has cerebral palsy, which affects the right side of her body, her hearing, and speech. Because speaking does not come easily to Bielecki, she often turns to her art to communicate her concepts and ideas.

Bielecki attends Penn State University, where she studies English and fine art.

 

Kevin Quiles Bonilla, Award of Excellence
Colonial Wall Push, 2016
Digital video

Kevin Quiles Bonilla is interested in reactivating public spaces with his body to engage viewers in a hidden or forgotten past. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, his work references colonial themes of inherent and imposed identity through a sense of place. Colonial Wall Push asks us to consider how one’s sense of self is formed from the physical spaces we occupy, built from ideas and dialogues that are both conscious and unconscious, private and public. What power (symbolic and actual) impacts us in shared space? Quiles Bonilla, who has obsessive compulsive disorder, draws inspiration from the late conceptual artist Terry Fox, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and whose work explores a recurrent cycle of illness and health.

A graduate of the University of Puerto Rico, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bonilla is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at Parsons, The New School of Design in New York City.

 

Rein Brooks, Award of Excellence
Angel, 2016
Synthetic hair, plywood, paint, graphite powder (96 in x 33 in x 29 in)

For Rein Brooks, interactive sculpture is a means to inhabit a body other than one’s own. In this piece, Brooks uses a literal representation of their own hair, which has thinned, become brittle, been cut, and regrown as their health has fluctuated. The resulting piece invites the viewer into a personal tangle of power, vulnerability, and erasure. Angel is part of a larger series, Gifts, which questions established narratives of illness, identity, and gender. It is both magnetic and repulsive—an analogy to Brooks’ experiences living with an eating disorder and gender dysphoria. “Angel is meant to be engaged with. Its columnar structure leaves room for a single person to stand or sit within a protective, enclosing space. It is an invitation for the viewer to step inside my body and experience the gratitude and awe I feel for its resilience.”

Brooks, who is from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, earned a bachelor’s degree in French and linguistics from Grinnell College where they also studied studio art.

  

Marieke Davis, Award of Excellence
Life is Blurry (parts I and II), 2016
Pen and ink on paper (17.5 in x 26 in)

Marieke Davis is a graphic artist from Phoenix, Arizona. The small frames required for graphic art accommodate Davis’ limited field of vision. Using her own life as material, Davis’ narrative-driven creative process always begins with writing the script before she brings it to life through drawing. She uses humor to educate the able-bodied world about how she and other people with low vision often perceive and navigate the world in what she terms “the most effective way possible—through laughter.”

Davis graduated from Arizona State University where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in art/drawing and studied English literature, women’s and gender studies, and creative writing.

 

Rowan DiIoia, Award of Excellence
Teardrop Cabinet, 2016
Mahogany, steel, aluminum, rope (24 in x 12 in x 12 in)

Rowan DiIoia created Teardrop Cabinet to hold a collection of small wonders from the natural world—a modern-day take on a cabinet of curiosities. The seven drawers that spiral upwards from the bottom of the piece each hold a sample of water from seven different sources. DiIoia works in various artistic disciplines including metal working, wood working, glass blowing, sculpture, and ceramics. Like most of his work, this piece features elements that come from recycled materials. Teardrop Cabinet is hand-shaped and carved from a single block of mahogany wood, with a hand sculpted recycled aluminum top.

A Santa Barbara, California native, DiIoia is currently studying furniture design at California College of the Arts. He has dyslexia and dysgraphia.

 

Painting by Blythe Gurche: a woman laying on a yellow blanket and patterned rug, wearing a red shirt.Blythe Gurche, Award of Excellence
Last Light
Acrylic on wood (60 in x 60 in)

Blythe Gurche’s work explores and embraces change. As a child she insisted on celebrating her twelfth birthday twice because she rejected the idea of becoming a teenager and all of the perils that come with that transition. As a teen, she started painting as a way to hold on to aspects of her childhood. Gurche has neurocardiogenic syncope, which causes a drop in blood pressure and temporary loss of consciousness. These fainting episodes, which are themselves miniature and abrupt changes, interrupt her daily life in unpredictable ways. “Almost everything we interact with in our lifetimes is mercurial, ever-changing. Coming to terms with constant change has been something that in the past I have struggled with, it is something that I think we as human beings have a difficult time grasping.”

Gurche studied art and anthropology at Skidmore College, and has worked combining both disciplines as a scientific illustrator.

 

Carly Mandel, Award of Excellence
Everycloud, 2017
Porcelain, steel magazine rack 

In Everycloud, artist Carly Mandel comments on the lack of representation of disability in commercial media, and examines the way health is publically and commercially understood and valued. Mandel crafted the bone-like porcelain rings of Everycloud by hand, and each is unique. The magazine rack, in contrast, is rigid, factory-produced, and serves to help distribute mass media messaging. Mandel intends this dichotomy to highlight the relationship between an individualized approach to health, and the generic and pervasive idea of wellness in our society. As a person who has Crohn’s disease, she hopes that her work will educate people about invisible and chronic diseases. Mandel notes that for those with chronic illness the idea of attaining a state of perfect health is untenable, and the words “get well soon” have little meaning.

Mandel grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon in 2015. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

 

Jillian Santora, Award of Excellence
Symptomatic (series), 2017
Fabric, thread, wood, hanging hardware

Jillian Santora has discovered the cathartic nature of sewing, mending, and quilting—art forms she uses as an agent of change. Symptomatic is a series of protest banners emblazoned with hand-appliquéd statements that address the lived experience of illness and disability. By employing traditional sewing techniques and hanging methods, Santora invokes suffragette and labor union protest banners to confront a present day inequity. Santora’s goal with Symptomatic is to give voice to people with hidden or invisible disabilities. As a person with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and mast cell activation disorder, Santora’s messages are a means of empowering herself and her community, who in her words, are “fighting for inclusion, compassion, and care in an able-bodied world.”

Santora holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

 

Kendall Schauder, Award of Excellence
T-Shirt, 2017
Digital video and cloth shirt (66 in x 66 in x 18 in)

Kendall Schauder investigates the way that textiles are a 3D record of the machinery used to produce them. Schauder was diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade, and continuously struggled within a school curriculum that could not be adapted for students with learning disabilities. This led her to explore the idea of learning through visual and tactile sensations within the 3D workspace of textile machinery. T-Shirt was presented as a performance piece in which Schauder unraveled an industrially knit t-shirt, and then completely reconstructed the shirt by hand. Through the process of deconstruction she notices the way each piece of the shirt fits together as part of the overall pattern. When reconstructing the shirt, Schauder uses the same logic as the original pattern, but by reworking the material by hand she comes up with her own understanding of the fabric and its qualities, characteristics, and possibilities.

Schauder was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and how lives in Chicago, Illinois. She recently graduated from the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

 

Becca Schwartz, Award of Excellence
Binghamton 2, 2016
Photograph (60 in x 40 in)

As a photographer, Becca Schwartz questions the reality depicted in photographs that we as viewers understand to be the truth. In this body of work she photographs the interiors of mid-century homes using bright lighting so that her audience is unable to differentiate what is real and what is staged or edited in post-production. Bingham 2 challenges the unrealistic idea of normalcy as seen through home advertising in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The reading glasses float above the too-white surface of the kitchen table, forgotten or belonging to no one, yet the visual weight of the benches and the ordinariness of the tile floor pull us back into a version of reality. The viewer is left wondering if this hyper-realistic image is a representation of someone’s life, or a complete fabrication.

Schwartz has Tourette syndrome. She lives in Richmond, Virginia and studies photography at Virginia Commonwealth University.

 

Esther Woo, Award of Excellence
Isolation, 2015
Photograph (60 in x 40 in)

Esther Woo works across multiple media, from sculpture using found objects to photography and collage, and has been creating art since childhood. In Isolation Woo channels her experience with attention deficit disorder, which can make socializing and connecting with peers difficult. The fractured, misaligned layers of the digital photo collage and inconsistent focus throughout the image is at odds with the precision and clarity we expect from the photographic medium, and leads to a feeling of tension and unease. Woo seems to be brought short by an invisible barrier, yet the vibrancy and larger-than-life size of the photograph conveys assurance and potent sense of self.

A native of Coppell, Texas, Woo lives in New York City where she attends Parsons School of Design at The New School.

Playwright Discovery Call for Scripts Now Open!

A girl with long braids and glasses, wearing a pink shirt, looks at the script she is holding while a man in a gray baseball hat and gray sweatshirt looks on.

A past VSA Playwright Discovery Award winner works on her script.

Do you know a budding creative writer? The annual VSA Playwright Discovery Program, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program, is accepting scripts for its 2018 competition through January 17, 2018.

The Playwright Discovery Program invites young writers with disabilities and collaborative groups that include students with disabilities, in U.S. grades 6-12 (or equivalents) or ages 11-18 for non-U.S. students, to explore the disability experience through the art of writing for performance: plays, screenplays, spoken word poetry (for single performer or a group), or music theater. Writers are encouraged to craft short works from their own experiences and observations, create fictional characters and settings, or choose to write metaphorically or abstractly about the disability experience.

Six students stand on a black box stage floor holding glass awards, along with a seventh student whose face appears on a screen; audience members are applauding.

Past VSA Playwright Discovery Award winners are recognized for their writing at the Kennedy Center.

Selected winners in the Senior Division (grades 10-12 / ages 15-18) will receive exclusive access to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to participate in staged readings and workshops alongside the nation’s premier collegiate playwrights as well as participate in the festival’s award ceremony.

Before you or your students apply online, consider the following six tips for creating a winning script.

  1. Address the topic of disability in a meaningful way. Be thoughtful about how you incorporate disability into your script, and try to avoid clichés. Check out the playwriting resources available on the Kennedy Center’s website, including a series of short essays on the disability experience written by theater professionals with disabilities.
  2. Thoroughly develop the plot. Vary the stakes throughout your story to increase the sense of mystery and interest. Incorporate plot twists and subplots, but remember to resolve them.
  3. Pace the action well and sustain interest throughout. Many scripts have promising starts, but convenient or rushed conclusions. If the plot unfolds throughout your script, you will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
  4. Make your characters believable and compelling. The characters in your play should elicit an emotional or intellectual response from your audience. Work on making them relatable and give them opportunities to learn and grow throughout the story.
  5. Use dialogue effectively. Dialogue is the playwright’s tool to further character development and express a range of human emotions. It should also reflect the writer’s language skills and a sense of natural speech patterns.
  6. Make your script your own. Tell a story that is unique, complex, and surprising, and your script will stand out!

The 2018 VSA Playwright Discovery Program is accepting applications until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, January 17. Applications must be submitted online.