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)

Kendal Schauder’s 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.

Advertisements

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.

The Five Ws + an H of Program Evaluation

By Erin J. Hoppe

Whether you work at an organization with dozens of employees or just one, evaluation is essential to accountability, transparency, and continuous improvement. I come from the later of these dichotomies, but will always prioritize evaluation as a way to measure our success and work smarter. With limited funds but unlimited demands, it is essential to take a critical look at our work. Here are a few tips on how to make evaluation work, no matter the organizational circumstances.

  1. Why – Start here. Aside from the few reasons previous noted, you need to identify the specific reasons why evaluation is important for your program. Are you trying to understand the impact, increase efficiency and effectiveness, or demonstrate value to stakeholders? Having this answer will help you make a plan and address the rest of the evaluation process.
  2. What – This matters a lot because it shapes your research question and strategy. Clarify what you want to learn from this process and what you will do with the information. This is more specific than the “why.” What you want to know will determine what data you collect, from who, and how—do you need a pre-post-test or interviews?
  3. Who – No one is an island and no evaluation has ever been conducted by a single person. Someone is providing the data you are collecting. Someone is analyzing the information. Someone is expecting a report on the results. Build a team to help you get through the process and always over-thank participants for the extra work you are asking of them.
  4. Where – Is this evaluation taking place in your building or schools across the state? The lines of communication between administrators and participants should be wide open and responsive. Think about providing the evaluation in multiple formats and make sure there is a clear path from data collection to analysis to reporting.
  5. When – Evaluations can be a short survey after an event or span several years. Either way, I make the same recommendation for evaluation as I do for accessibility: it should be a line item during planning meetings and in the budget. This doesn’t have to mean spending more than you can afford, but it does demonstrate value.
  6. How – Large institutions might have a team with “evaluation” in their job description and funds to make it happen. Others need to find funders and outside experts. Either way, with a clear “why” and “what” the work will happen.

The best advice I can offer in program evaluation is to be thoughtful, flexible, and tenacious. Whatever the scope of your project, the results should inform your practices (even if they aren’t what you expected), and just might move the field forward so we all learn something new. I look forward to reading your findings.

 

Erin Hoppe's headshot

VSA Ohio Executive Director Erin Hoppe

Erin J. Hoppe is approaching her ten-year anniversary as executive director of VSA Ohio (www.vsao.org). Her background in evaluation includes work at VSAO, The Ohio State University, American Institutes for Research, and the Smithsonian Institution. She is a board member for Columbus Arts Marketing Association, Ohio Citizens for the Arts, and ADA Ohio. If you can’t find her in the office, she is probably working on a home improvement project or bird watching.

NTID Program Encourages Students’ Creativity and Literacy Skills

A photograph of eight students in a room with a desk, table, and chairs, holding notebooks and smiling.

Participants work together at one of the NTID playwriting workshops in Florida.

From May to August, 2017, theater professionals from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) presented a theatrical script writing program to students who are deaf and hearing students closely connected to deafness. The ten-hour program, held at five sites in Maryland, New York, and Florida, offered students a creative way to explore their feelings of identity, disability, isolation, community involvement, and aspirations.

Aaron Kelstone, director of NTID’s performing arts program, and Fred Beam, coordinator of NTID’s performing arts outreach program, said the participating students were ages 13-21. Kelstone and Beam answered questions about the program in an email interview, sharing insights into the students’ experience learning about theatrical script writing.

 

VSA: Tell us about what the students enjoyed the most in your script writing program.

Kelstone and Beam: The students enjoyed creating a play, especially when they were about to make a story as a group. For example, a student will start one part of the story and leave the next part for the next student. Everyone took turns in creating a scene, and it helps them see their ability to create a play.

The students also enjoyed the pre-writing theater workshop session. The workshop began with a warm-up, or icebreaker, which teaches recognition and awareness of facial expressions, body language, and body movement. The next section was the “clay” activity, which allows students to create a prop with their hands and show action with their body; this helped students understand how props can play an integral part in the development of their play. Finally, the students participated in a “mask” activity, which allowed them to change their character and show their feelings after their mask was put on, then return to normal after the mask was taken off.

 

A young man with light wavy hair and a green t-shirt signs, holding his right hand near his face.

A student signs to a video camera during an NTID playwriting class.

VSA: What playwriting lessons were particularly well received?

Kelstone and Beam: The introduction of playwriting vocabulary words, like script, acts, scene, character, setting, dialogue, and conflict, offered interactive activities for each word. We defined the word, offered an image that reflected the word, and then modeled how it was structured.

The next lesson was the brainstorming session. We gave students a worksheet that asked for information like title of their play, characters in the play, character descriptions, setting, conflict, and scene summaries. Then students had a choice if they wanted to write in a word, write in a sentence, or draw a picture on the worksheet. After that, we guided students through making a storyboard and encouraged them to edit their storyline. We wanted students to be able to see their scenes in a specific order and add a necessary element if anything was missing.

Deaf students signed their stories; we had them tell it to the audience or record it on videotape. They then used that process to support themselves while doing further writing. Students also received sample scripts written by others as a reference.

 

VSA: Your program also explores the students’ feelings about deafness and Deaf culture. Did the plays spur a helpful conversation within the classroom?  

Kelstone and Beam: Yes, it allowed the students to express their experiences with barriers. They were able to identify frustrations about their feelings and relate to each other when they have similar experiences by sharing their stories. A main theme that emerged from the students’ work was communication in a different language (American Sign Language, or ASL).

 

A photograph of white posterboard with six handdrawn pictures, each with captions underneath. Together, they tell a story with the title, "Almost Died...".

A student story board created in an NTID class.

VSA: How did literacy skills improve within the participating students?

Kelstone and Beam: Many of the students we worked with use ASL as their dominant language, and needed some support writing in English; others did their writing independently. Everyone worked on literacy skills, and it happened in several different ways.

For instance, we had students who drew a picture and asked us, “What is the word for that action?” Then we introduced new vocabulary words, and they used them in their storyboard or script. Other students had their story all mixed up, and organizing it on a storyboard really helped them learn how to structure and write in ways that created order or put information in the proper places.

Some students were not comfortable with only writing, and they had the freedom to sign their script and put it on video, draw a storyboard, and explain what happened in each scene. By watching the video of themselves, writing what they saw, and asking others for help, they were able to learn new words, sentences, and phrases. It also helped them develop a richer story because the video taught them how their facial expressions and body language contain a depth of meaning. It was similar to the growth one gains from translating from one language to another.

One teacher told us that one of her students would not write a paragraph when given a written assignment. After participating in our program and learning about playwriting and storyboards, she wrote a whole script!

Talking Without Words: a Creative Movement Lesson Plan Designed for Inclusive Classrooms

By Portia Abernathy

Lesson Title: Talking Without Words: Using Our Bodies and Movement to Show Our Feelings
Designed for: Youth (8-12 years old), Inclusive
Length: 1 hour

 

Learning Standards

Responding: Respond to movement to match the emotional content, mood, or rhythm of music.

Creating: Use guided improvisation to explore, invent movement, and apply movement concepts.

Performing: Demonstrate movements in straight and curved pathways. Use movement to demonstrate various emotions (happy, sad, scared, surprised, angry).

Connecting: Move in different groups (pairs and duets). Make movement choices based on preferences.

 

Materials

Chairs
Images of people demonstrating different emotions
Rubber floor markers
Music and speaker OR live musician


Lesson

Welcome
Preview concepts: using movement and our bodies to show emotions and feelings

  • Students begin seated in assigned chairs set up in a circle.
  • For attendance/check in, ask students (when their name is called) to freeze their face and body (while remaining seated) in a way that can show the group how they are feeling today.

Warm Up
Review concepts: personal and general space, level, shape, and size (large and small)

  • Lead students (with musical accompaniment) through the 8-step Brain Dance movement series. (The Brain Dance was developed and created by Anne Green Gilbert)
  • Incorporate movements that promote body isolations and highlight the previous weeks’ learning concepts; this can also include seasonal imagery (falling leaves or snow, flowers growing, wind, apple picking).

Concept Introduction
New concept: using movement and our bodies to show emotions and feelings

  • One by one, show students five different images of people demonstrating different emotions.
  • Ask students to silently observe the faces, bodies, movement, posture, etc. of the people in the images.
  • Ask students:
    • What do you see that made you choose that?
    • What is their body doing/what is their face doing/etc.
  • After each emotion, have students freeze their own body to demonstrate the feeling.

 

Exploration
Review concepts: Traveling on straight pathways, practicing locomotor movements

  • Have students travel across the floor in straight and curved pathways, from one floor marker to the other.
  • For each round of movement have students (alone or in pairs):
    • March
    • Tip toe
    • Chasse
    • Skip
    • Jump (over another floor marker along the pathway)
  • At the end of each movement round, have students turn and talk to a partner and share which emotion the movement made them feel.
  • Demonstrate (or have students demonstrate) two different responses/emotions to the same movement.
  • Ask students
    • What was different?
    • What did you see or notice?
    • What makes you say that?
  • Ask for 2-3 students to demonstrate their emotion with a locomotor movement, like a gallop or hop, and see if students can guess the emotion.
    • Note that students can share and we can understand how people are feeling without using any words.

 

Application

  • Return to seated circle.
  • Play a clip of music and allow students to listen and think about how it makes them feel.
  • In pairs or trios, have students go into the middle of the circle and free dance (structured improvisation), matching their emotion and movement to the music.
    • Remind students to use various body parts, levels, shapes, and qualities of movement.
  • Other students should demonstrate audience behavior expectations while observing.

 

Reverence

  • Close class with group reverence:
    • Bow to thank teacher
    • Bow to thank musician
    • Bow to thank peers
    • Bow to thank self

 

A picture of Portia Abernathy, a smiling woman with long blonde hair and a blue jacket


Portia Abernathy, M.A., M.Ed., is Assistant Director of Education and Community Initiatives at Boston Ballet, where she oversees accessible and inclusive dance education and professional development programs.

Five Tips for Creating Accessible Conference Sessions

By Diane Nutting

Conferences are a vital part of our professional development. The opportunity to learn more about innovations in the industry, share new insights and approaches, and network with our colleagues provides inspiration and often results in new ideas, new work, and new partnerships. Creating an accessible conference session ensures that ALL our colleagues are included within these learning communities. The five tips below can aid in your planning facilitation.

1. Consider the room layout. Think about the environment you want to create for your session, and how you want your attendees to engage and/or share information with each other. Use this information to decide how you want tables and chairs arranged—taking into account the physical accessibility of the space before, after, and during the session. Once you are in the space, plan for the positioning of service providers such as sign language interpreters and real time captioning as well as the attendees utilizing those services, and keep an eye to lighting, glare, or other visual distractions in the room.

2. Create a safe space. Set the tone at the beginning of your session so that attendees feel safe to explore new ideas without the fear of making “mistakes,” or saying “the wrong thing.” Provide and accept a wide range of participation levels depending on comfort level. Encourage the use of “I” statements during discussions to frame opinions or thoughts. Create and encourage a session environment where attendees can ask for the support or clarification they need.

3. Facilitate accessible activities. Provide various entry points and participation strategies for your session activities. Make sure that hanging or displayed materials are at an appropriate and accessible height and distance for your attendees. Provide materials that can support engagement (examples: if using tennis balls for an activity, consider bean bags which can be easier to catch and grasp; provide markers that are both large and small). Make sure any handouts are designed for accessibility* (font, layout, etc.), and provide alternative formats of the materials (digital access, large print, etc.).

4. Support your slides. Design your PowerPoint so that font sizes, color schemes, and formatting aligns to accessible guidelines.* Throughout your session, be sure to audio describe any images or photos on slides, and spell out any web addresses. Avoid putting large amounts of text on the screen for attendees to read on their own; instead, read that text as part of your facilitation.

5. Make sure everyone is “heard”: Encourage one speaker at a time during discussions. If amplification is available in the room, ensure that everyone uses a microphone (including you). Repeat comments and questions, and clarify any acronyms or industry jargon/terminology that is used. Take note of participation that is only perceived visually and describe it verbally (examples: if you ask for a “show of hands,” be sure to indicate the percentage of response; if attendees are nodding their heads in response, share that information— “I see many of you nodding in agreement”).

Accessibility within conference sessions is about thinking ahead, maintaining a “read” of your session attendees, and being a flexible and creative problem solver in the moment. Even more importantly, when you take steps to ensure accessibility for your own session, your actions might very well influence the ideas of inclusion and accessibility within the overall conference environment as well!

 

* Resources for creating accessible materials (courtesy of Sina Bahram)

 

A woman with shoulder-length, wavy brown hair, wearing a red and white scarf around her neck and a red shirt.Diane Nutting works as a consultant at the intersections of disability, arts, and education—specializing in training design and facilitation, project coordination, and strategic planning. She has worked with artists and K-Adult students of all abilities as a teacher, administrator, and artistic collaborator; and also has extensive experience in conference settings as a conference coordinator, staff member, and avid session presenter.   She served for nine years as the Director of Access and Inclusion for Imagination Stage, working to provide accessible and inclusive performing arts experiences for all students, patrons, and artists.   

Urban Artisans Prepares Students with Disabilities for Careers, In or Out of the Arts

Two smiling, male students work with clay at a table in the ArtMix studio.It was more than 16 years ago that staff at ArtMix in Indianapolis, Indiana, and officials in the Indianapolis Public Schools identified a need to better prepare students with disabilities age 16-22 for life after school. Knowing that the arts could train students in pre-vocational skills and aid in personal growth, ArtMix began its Urban Artisans program, training students in the making, marketing, and selling of artwork in a professional studio setting.

Today, over 60 students with disabilities participate in Urban Artisans each year, according to Linda Wisler, ArtMix’s Vice President of Programs. Wisler says a key to the program’s success was creating the right environment for teaching those important pre-vocational skills. “Offering the students a learning venue outside of school really motivated and excited them. They all share a love of art and look forward to their time in our studios,” she explains.

All of the Urban Artisans participants are paid a stipend or hourly wage for their work in the program, where they create artwork alongside teaching artists that is sold in local galleries and creative outlet shops. Proceeds from the sale of the items go directly to support the Urban Artisans program. Katy Deadmond, ArtMix’s Manager of Community Outreach, says that the students work as a team and are paid as such, adding, “[t]hey have a real sense of pride and accomplishment when they get that paycheck.” Wisler notes that paying the students also promotes their leadership skills, saying they “start having high expectations for each other!”

Four rows of clay flowerpots are displayed on white shelves, with a tall plant to their right. There is a sign next to the flowerpots that says "ArtMix."

Flowerpots created by Urban Artisans students are displayed at a gallery in Indiana.

Wisler says the Urban Artisans line of products is known for certain items, like flowerpots, serving platters, and small animal sculptures, but also includes weavings, painted silk scarves, and large canvas paintings. “Many of the objects we make evolve organically, based on what the students enjoy creating and what is marketable,” says Deadmond. The students also work on commissioned pieces and contribute to some sort of community service activity; this year, they are making centerpieces for the Indianapolis Library’s gala.

Urban Artisans includes both a school year session, when students work in the ArtMix studio as part of their school day, and a summer session. Both sessions are designed for students to be in the studio three times each week, with about 25 students participating during the school year and 30-35 in the summer. ArtMix teaching artists also work with 10-12 Urban Artisans students in their school classroom, as a first step for those who may not be ready to participate in the studio environment yet.

A young woman, wearing a headband and blue, tie-dyed tee shirt, uses a fork as she sculpts with clay; a small dog sculpture sits on the table beside her.

An Urban Artisans student works on an animal sculpture.

Wisler and Deadmond emphasize that while the students’ technical artistic skills improve over the course of their time in Urban Artisans, they make tremendous gains in other skills that are transferrable to any job or life situation. “We see major improvement in the students’ social skills, including their ability to work in a team and accept one another’s differences. We even hear from parents that their students are more willing to clean up at home since it is part of the routine at the end of each Urban Artisans session,” says Wisler.

Deadmond also notes that the students’ self-awareness increases throughout the program, as seen in the self-evaluations they complete at each session. She explains, “Some of the questions we ask are about their behaviors and mood, and over time in the self-evaluations, we see the students begin to realize how they are impacting their co-workers. Ultimately, this leads to a hugely important, transferrable, pre-vocational skill: having respect for yourself and those around you.”

 

 

Read more about the work done by ArtMix (formerly VSA Indiana) and other organizations to aid young adults in their career development in the 2012 publication Transition to Employment: Model Projects Fostering Careers in the Arts for Youth with Disabilities.

Teaching Students with ASD “High Value Skills for High Value Work” at FilmAcademy360

A smiling young man wearing headphones works at a computer in the FilmAcademy360 production studio. There is a green screena dn other students working in the background.When Program Director David Di Ianni created FilmAcademy360, a part of Spectrum360 in Livingston, New Jersey, he was interested in teaching students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) “high value skills for high value work.” What he means by that, he says, is that with appropriate training and skill development, the young adults in the program could someday attain work that is both stimulating and well paid. A cohort of seven students with ASD recently completed the FilmAcademy360 program in advanced video editing with great success, opening doors to future professional opportunities.

The FilmAcademy360 program has three phases, beginning with introducing students to theoretical concepts of editing and basic filmmaking. Students, who visit the studio twice a week, learned things like thinking in shots and understanding the progression of shots as a basis for visual storytelling media. Di Ianni says understanding this cinematic language is “…a necessary skill for all filmmakers and digital storytellers.”

Two young men operate a video camera.Phase two of the program was the teaching of Adobe Premiere professional editing software. A major goal of the FilmAcademy360 program was for students to gain proficiency in 10 categories of skills using the software, demonstrated through a score of 80% or higher on assessments. Di Ianni says that, after realizing the recent cohort of students were very visual learners, they adapted the text-heavy Adobe Premiere curriculum and added video lessons. The video curriculum, in conjunction with their in-person classroom instruction, helped all seven students pass the skills assessments, several with perfect scores.

The third phase of the program exposed the students to a professional work environment, both at the FilmAcademy360 production studio and at nearby Elm City Communications. The young adults were encouraged to develop relationships with outside producers, hopefully leading to future work opportunities. Students created their own professional showreel to submit to potential employers, along with a resume and profiles on websites like Upwork and Freelancer.com. Di Ianni and the other instructors also worked closely with the students on verbal and nonverbal communication skills, using video recordings as a learning tool.

A young woman looks up from her computer where she is editing video. She is wearing a denim jacket and green shirt.Di Ianni emphasizes that even though the program may be over for their recent seven students, FilmAcademy360 will continue to support their professional development. “We have an open door policy to support these students,” he says, continuing, “If they get a freelance gig, they can come into our studio and do the work here. We made a commitment to these students, and intend to support their future progress to whatever degree we can.”

Five Tips for Using the Arts to Introduce Job Skills to Youth with Disabilities

By Damon McLeese

Young adulthood is a time of wonder, exploration, and often the time a person lands their first job. For teens with disabilities, this first paycheck may be rather elusive. At VSA Colorado, we use a commission-based project to strengthen their skill set, expose them to the concept of a job, and do amazing things for their self-esteem. The following tips are based on the concept of Commission-Based Creation or creating art for a client.

 

  1. There is no I in team – Very few jobs in this world are done in isolation. We all work in teams and must learn to cooperate, interact, and support one another. Many teens with disabilities have very little opportunity to work in teams, so at VSA Colorado we engage students in a team project. When the work is finished, everyone shares in the success.

 

  1. One coach – Creating art collaboratively is a new experience for many youth with disabilities. Creating art for a specific client is often a more alien concept. At VSA Colorado, we hire a lead artist that is the coach or boss for the team. The job of this coach is to make sure everyone is represented and the work is of the highest quality. It does no one any good if the work is not well presented.

 

  1. Research – Youth with disabilities often have no knowledge of corporate workplace culture. At VSA Colorado, we find visiting the client’s worksite to be critical to understanding the culture of an organization. By visiting the client, teens are able to see a workplace. We focus on the feel and look of the place, the colors, and furniture. Then ask the client what type of art they are looking for and develop ideas collaboratively. When possible, we have the client visit our studio during the creation of the piece.

 

  1. Money matters –A basic understanding of money is one important job skill to develop with youth with disabilities. At VSA Colorado, we create a project budget and share the budget with the team. We address questions like, “How much do you have to work with? What might the materials cost? Where are we going to get the materials?” If possible, we pay each participant to continue the lesson in financial responsibility.

 

  1. Expect professionalism – When teaching job skills, it is important to clearly outline the expectations of the work sessions. Who is responsible for the set up and clean up? What are the behavior expectations? At VSA Colorado, we hold the team accountable and check in with everyone at the conclusion of each session.

 

When the work is completed at our studio, we have every member of the team reflect on the piece and the experience. When possible, we have the team deliver the artwork to the client. Celebrating the teens’ success is important and encourages further use of the skills they have developed.

 

Damon McLeese is the executive director of VSA Colorado/Access Gallery. He has created and manages several innovative programs including the ArtWorks Program, which supports youth with disabilities as they transition from high school to young adulthood. Most of the programs Damon has designed aim to bridge the gap between disability and economic opportunity through the arts. 

Five Tips for Using The Arts and Special Education: A Map for Research

By Jenna Gabriel, Ed.M. and Don Glass, Ph.D.

The Kennedy Center’s recent publication, The Arts and Special Education: A Map for Research, is meant to be a living document that sparks conversation and incites action to support a shared, ambitious agenda around growing the field of the arts and special education. Thus, this resource should not be considered a “be-all-end-all” answer to large questions about the impact of arts learning on students with disabilities. Rather, it proposes priority areas for the field to focus new research, offers suggestions around the field’s responsibility to rigorous research design and methodologies, and charts a course of milestones by which we can measure our shared progress toward these goals.

Whether you are an individual researcher, a program evaluator, a funder, or a practitioner; whether you are working alone, as a program consultant, or with a large institution, there is a place for your work in this map. To get the most out of this resource, we recommend you consider the following:

1. This is not a prescriptive plan. This research map is far from comprehensive, and is not meant to be an exhaustive list of research questions to pursue or literature to reference. Rather, this is meant to be a jumping off point. The three priority areas proposed might help to frame your work or provide direction in a next step. The research questions could be investigated, and might also inspire other rich questions. The milestones are benchmarks by which the field might measure progress.

2. Contextualize your work to identify where you can contribute to this agenda. Just as this map is not exhaustive, it is impossible to think any one researcher or organizations could take on all of these action steps. Don’t think about how you can pursue everything in the map. Rather, think about where your work fits: Do you work with an organization that offers innovative programs for students? Perhaps you could consider how your work helps to contribute to a body of literature in Priority Area 2: Instructional Design and Innovation. Do you work at a large school district or state-level department of education? Perhaps you can look at large data sets that help us understand how students with disabilities participate in arts education in your area (Priority Area 1: Access and Equity). This work will grow and succeed when our efforts are aligned, not when all of us try to do a little bit of everything in isolation.

3. Look to other, more established fields as exemplars. The arts and special education is a young field, and the representative body of literature is still growing. However, this field draws on larger, established fields like arts education, special education, human development, curriculum and instruction, improvement sciences, developmental psychology, disability studies, and more. These fields have rich bodies of research literature that can offer theoretical foundations for our work as well as useful models of rigorous research methodologies.

4. Connect your work to practice and to policy. Remember—research can’t happen in a vacuum. Across the field, we work with real students in real classrooms; research should inform practice, and experiences in our classrooms should drive the next research questions we pursue. Findings should further inform policy decisions, so consider how your work (whether as a researcher or in the classroom/community) can influence systems-level ideas.

5. Be comfortable with discomfort. Close, rigorous examination of instructional practices might not show us what we want to see. Sometimes, teaching strategies we feel intuitively should work might not prove to be statistically effective. While that can be disappointing, it’s important to remember that that information helps us to better understand what does work and why—thereby improving instruction for the students we support.

 

Jenna Gabriel, Ed.M., is Manager of Special Education at the Kennedy Center. Don Glass, Ph.D., is Research Manager at the Kennedy Center. They are both editors of The Arts and Special Education: A Map for Research.