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.

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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.

5 Reasons to Attend the 2017 VSA Intersections Conference

There are lots of reasons to attend the Kennedy Center’s VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Brand New Content

We have tons of new sessions that you won’t want to miss! Here is sampling of what we have planned:

  • It Takes a Village: Inclusive Community Music Programming
  • Teaching Students with Disabilities Using Puppets
  • Blackness, Disability, and Higher Education
  • Using Art to Reach Students Who Have Experienced Trauma
  • The Power Of West African Drumming For Students With Disabilities
  • What’s New? A Fresh Look At Paraprofessionals And Peers As Support For Students With Disabilities

Browse the full schedule here.

Close up of microphone in concert hall or conference room

2. Keynote Speaker: Antoine Hunter

The Keynote address will challenge attendees to question how teacher perception of disability affects student expectations and to envision a classroom environment in which every student is empowered to achieve at high levels. In this address, Mr. Antoine Hunter—an award-winning African-American Deaf producer, choreographer, film/theater actor, dancer, dance instructor, model, poet, speaker, mentor, Deaf advocate, and the 2017 King of San Francisco Carnaval—will offer perspective from his own experiences as a Deaf artist and provide insights into how those experiences have shaped his current teaching practice.

Antione Hunter 33 cropped

3. Get Inspired Before the New Year Begins

It’s the beginning of summer break and you just want to lay at the pool, spend time with your family, and rest your mind before the new school year begins. We know it’s hard to think ahead to the end of summer. But the VSA Intersections Conference is a great way to get re-energized and inspired, so you can bring new creative ideas to the 2017-2018 year.

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4. Grow Your Peer and Resources Network

Meet experts and newcomers to the field and grow your relationships with other educators passionate about arts education for students with disabilities. Everyone conference is a different experience and there are plenty of opportunities to mingle with other participants.

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5. Explore all that Austin has to Offer

A change of location can inspire you to think differently. Join us in Texas and explore all the art and creativity that it’s capital city has to offer. During the conference, you’ll hear from Austin-based arts organizations such as MINDPOP and VSA Texas.

Austin skyline low

We hope you’ll be able to join us as we dig deeper into the critical relationship of arts and education through new content, an amazing keynote speaker, and plenty of learning and fun.  The 2017 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference is taking place August 6-7, 2017 in Austin, Texas. Register by June 30 for the lowest rate.

VSA Intersections is a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program.

JFKC: A Centennial Celebration of John F. Kennedy at the Kennedy Center

During the week of May 22-29, 2017, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is celebrating JFKC: A Centennial Celebration of John F. Kennedy, in celebration of JFK’s 100th birthday. Below are pieces of art selected from the VSA Permanent Collection, which illustrate the five enduring ideals embodied by JFK: COURAGE, FREEDOM, JUSTICE, SERVICE, and GRATITUDE. We welcome you to celebrate #JFKC with us all week on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages.

SERVICE

vsa1997.002_chandRadhika Chand began making art as a young child to help develop her fine motor skills—one part of a program designed to minimize the symptoms of Down syndrome. Chand continued to make art when she saw the positive effect that her work had on others. As she said of her first solo exhibition, which took place in Delhi in 1992, “that made me feel happy, good and fulfilled because I could do something which gave others so much joy.”

Having grown up in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, Hong Kong, and Sydney, Chand’s exposure to diverse cultures and countries has influenced her work. Her abstract paintings, a combination of watercolors and acrylic paint, are a spontaneous response to the world around her.

Radhika Chand
Redflower, 1997
Watercolor and acrylic (19 in x 28 in)

COURAGE

vsa1986.001_pepion3

Ernie Pepion grew up working on his family ranch on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana. In 1971, after a car accident rendered him quadriplegic, Pepion began painting. He studied painting at Montana State University, and developed a substantial body of work by 1991, when the Missoula Museum of the Arts recognized his achievements with the retrospective, Ernie Pepion: Dreams on Wheels, the first major solo exhibition of a contemporary American Indian artist in a Montana museum.

For Pepion, painting allows him to be “…a person beyond the limitations of racial prejudice and disability.” His work does this by offering dreamlike scenes and improbable scenarios. This can be seen in Buffalo Hunter (1986), which depicts Pepion hunting buffalo from his wheelchair/hobby horse turned steed.

Ernie Pepion
Buffalo Hunter, 1986
Oil on canvas (47 in x 52 in)

FREEDOM

vsa2000.001_jakovics

Maria Jankovics was born in 1949 in Budapest, Hungary, just before the collapse of the Hungarian Republic. In 1956 her family fled the country during the Hungarian Revolution for Montreal, Canada, where Jankovics began studying art. Jankovic’s work draws on her cultural heritage and experience with illness that began when she contracted scarlet fever at age four. As seen in Dragonfly, she often borrows imagery from her mother’s Jewish and her father’s Catholic faiths, using images and text that recall illustrated books for children. Her work is bright, energetic, and playful, but also conveys themes of physical suffering, anxiety, and political strife. As Jankovics explains, “My paintings are very colorful with a sense of anguish, irony but with a ray of hope and a bit of humor. The work has a childlike quality all coming from my imagination.”

Maria Jankovics
Dragonfly, 2000
Collograph (36 in x 26.5 in)

GRATITUDE

vsa2011.007_frankAs a young adult, Alyce Frank moved to New Mexico where the landscape made a deep impression upon her. “New Mexico was so powerful and demanding that the way I made peace with it was to paint it,” she explains in Joseph Dispenza’s book The Magical Realism of Alyce Frank. Frank became a prominent figure in the southwestern art community, and pioneered a style that she would term “Taos expressionism.” Taos expressionism draws its stylistic elements, such as color palette and paint handling, from the expressionist painters and its subject matter from the dramatic southwestern landscape.

Alyce Frank
Hayfields – Arroyo Hondo, 1990
Serigraph (30 in x 22.5 in)

JUSTICE

vsa2011.037_yamagataIn 1989 artist Hiro Yamagata began his ongoing association with VSA when he was commissioned to design a poster for the first International VSA Festival, which exhibited the work of artists with disabilities from numerous countries. Invited to serve on the Board of Directors, the artist also helped established the Yamagata International Visual Arts Institute and Fellowship, an annual arts program that selected international artists with disabilities and teachers to study adaptive techniques and develop their work at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington. In 1993 he was awarded the first annual Freedom of Expression Award for his contributions to VSA.

Hiro Yamagata
Statue of Liberty, n.d.
Serigraph (68 in x 41 in)

In Amazement Square art program, students ask, “How Can I Help?”

A girl with black hair and a burgandy sweatshirt holds an art project made of cardboard boxes.

A student from the Amazement Square program shows off her creation.

Students who live in rural areas may not have access to the same kinds of cultural resources as their peers in metropolitan areas. For their VSA Visual Arts Discovery Program contract, staff at Amazement Square in Lynchburg, Virginia, sought out students with disabilities living in more isolated areas. Thanks to Amazement Square’s teaching artists and their expertise in using the museum’s Visual Arts Outreach Program framework, students with disabilities all over Central Virginia are having valuable arts learning experiences in their own classrooms.

According to Gwyn Tatum, director of education and programs at Amazement Square, opportunities for cultural engagement are very limited for students with disabilities in Central Virginia. The children’s museum jumped at the opportunity to expand their outreach to this community.

“We specifically reached out to schools that are far in the countryside, with students who are not going on field trips, so we can bring them lessons,” says Tatum, adding that their instructors are driving an hour or more to the school sites for the visual art residencies.

A girl with brown hair and a striped shirt holds an art project made of cardboard and plastic cups.

A student holds her creation from the “How Can I Help?” lesson.

Caitlin Seaman, one of the lead instructors for the Visual Art Outreach Program, says the teaching artists have been using two lessons from VSA’s 2016-2017 Teacher Resource Guide in their sessions with the students. Seaman says the “How Can I Help?” lesson, which focuses on the idea of service to one’s community, inspired the students to think outside the box.

“I was amazed with what [the students] came up with,” says Seaman, continuing, “…they had tons of ideas about problems in the world and many wonderful inventions for how to address the problems.” Seaman found the lesson worked best over the course of two one-hour sessions, so that they had enough time to make modifications as needed and ensure a meaningful experience for every child.

The “How Can I Help?” lesson is available on the VSA blog and on pages 9-15 of VSA’s Teacher Resource Guide. More information about Amazement Square is available on their website.

“How Can I Help?” – A visual art lesson plan from the VSA’s Teacher Resource Guide

A robot made of clay with a red top, square body, and striped legs.

A clay sculpture inspired by the “How Can I Help?” lesson.

In this lesson, students investigate possible solutions for concerns and/or needs in their community. They will design and create a machine to serve their community by addressing this need. The machine sculptures will be made out of clay or from found objects.

NOTE: This is an abridged version of the “How Can I Help?” lesson plan. To view the complete version, including in-depth adaptations and modifications for students with disabilities, example artworks, and a vocabulary list, see pages 9-15 of VSA’s Teacher Resource Guide.

GRADE LEVEL: K – 12
EXPECTED LENGTH: 2 – 3 class periods

MATERIALS
For clay sculpture:
Clay tools – simple tools such as plastic knives and forks
Clay mats
Acrylic paint
Newspaper

For found object sculpture:
Recycled materials (cardboard tubing, plastic bottles, cardboard)
Embellishments
Glue/Glue gun
Scissors

LEARNING OBJECTIVES
Art Making: Students will create a machine that can solve one of the world’s problems using found objects or clay and exemplifying the artistic principle of unity.

Critical Inquiry: Students will investigate how the title character of Wall-E was designed and created to solve a problem in the fictional society created in the movie.

Art History Inquiry: Students will reflect on the art- making of Michael Rakowitz and Tim Rollins + K.O.S. and how the artists talked and listened to the individuals they worked with (in other words – did research) in order to create their art.

Aesthetic Inquiry: Students will uncover how art can be an agent for social change through their examination of the stories behind the creations of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. and Michael Rakowitz.

PREPARE/DISCUSS
Show a clip of Wall-E that establishes the reason for Wall-E’s existence. Point out the vast and lonely landscape. Ask: Where are the people? Why would Wall-E be alone? Who created Wall-E and why?

Begin to generate ideas of problems we need to solve. What are some of the challenges that you or others must face each day? How could these challenges be made easier? Consider investigating topics being covered in other academic areas (e.g. if science class is addressing climate change). Make a brainstorming list on the board. Be prepared to pepper the list with suggestions to expand ideas. Record (or have a student record) this list for future reference.

Share the work of Michael Rakowitz and Tim Rollins + K.O.S. Highlight the research aspect of their work. Both artists asked questions and honored the voices of community members in their artistic process. In advocacy communities, this approach is embodied by the slogan: “Nothing about us without us,” which implies that people doing services that affect others (for example, policymakers) should do that service with the people it affects, not for them. Have students share times when things have been done “for them” but “without them.” Has someone ever helped you with your chair when you didn’t need it? Or answered a question for you without asking your opinion?

Revisit the brainstormed list created at the beginning. Who do we need to talk to and what do we need to ask in order to find out what is really needed?

A sculpture made of plastic cups, pom poms, and styrofoam balls.

A found object sculpture inspired by the “How Can I Help?” lesson.

METHODS/CREATE
Students should begin by identifying the problem they wish to address and thinking about a machine that could solve it. They should focus on how the machine would work, and what this will tell them about its design. For example, if the machine is designed to plant wild flowers on highway medians to support the Monarch butterflies during their migration, it might need something to rough up the soil to prepare for the seeds, something to sprinkle the seeds onto the dirt and something to water the seeds to help them start to germinate.

Choose the studio—clay construction or found object. Base your decision on either your access to the materials (clay construction will require access to a kiln), or the issue being addressed. For example, if investigating the concern for the excess trash that has created the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the use of recycled materials for the artwork would be most relevant.

Clay Construction

  1. Construct slabs of clay. Using a rolling pin, roll out clay with even pressure until it is 3/8” thick. Consider making the slabs in advance so the clay begins to dry out, which will make it easier to construct the machine.
  2. Create a base. Cut out shapes from a slab in the shape students want their machines to be: a square, rectangle or circle. If a square or rectangle is selected, then sides can be cut out using the base as a guide for the width of the pieces (2 for each dimension). If a circle is the base, a slab can simply be cut into a rectangle the length of the circumference of the circle.
  3. Prepare clay slabs to be connected. Have the students score the slabs by scratching the surfaces of both edges using a plastic fork or knife.
  4. Spread slip over the scored edges.
  5. Press the pieces together and smooth out the seams for a firm bond. Sides can be supported while drying with wads of newspaper.
  6. Once the frame of the machine is built, additional elements can be added using the slip and score process.
  7. Allow the work to dry, then fire in a kiln.
  8. The fired piece can be painted with acrylic paint to add details.

Found Object Construction

  1. Select materials from found objects, such as cardboard, toilet paper or paper towel tubes, or water bottles.
  2. Cut, tear or bend the selected material to match the students’ plans.
  3. Using glue or a glue gun, assemble the objects.
  4. Add embellishments, using glue for details (eyes, feathers, pompoms, etc.)

REFLECT
Have students write artist’s statements about their work. What does the machine do? How does it work? How does it address the identified need?

Watercolor Fountain Painting: A Visual Art Lesson Plan for Students with Disabilities

Created by Darren Thompson

Creative Arts Specialist Darren Thompson teaches art in a fully inclusive setting, which includes many students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). His goal is to provide a rich environment that supports creative exploration for all students. Many of the art experiences he designs that are especially effective for children with ASD involve motorized devices that he creates or adapts from common objects. Here, Thompson offers a visual art lesson plan utilizing a battery-operated tabletop fountain.

Grade
Preschool, ages 3 – 6 years

Materials

  • Battery-operated tabletop fountain
  • Semi-moist watercolor set (such as Crayola or Prang)
  • Heavy white paper

Goals

  • Become acquainted with watercolor as a medium for self-expression.
  • Demonstrate that the marks a person makes can represent a thought or a feeling.
  • Provide an opportunity for social interaction.

Procedure

  • Fill fountains with water and turn them on.
  • Demonstrate the sequence of first dipping the brush in the water, then in the paint, and then touching it to the paper.
  • Tell the children they can paint whatever they choose.
  • Express interest in and remark upon what you see in a child’s piece and ask him or her to share thoughts or feelings. For example: “I see you’re using red and you’ve made some straight lines and some circles. Tell me about it!”
  • Ask if you can share their painting and words with their friends.
  • If the answer is no, respect the child’s choice. If the answer is yes, then make an impromptu announcement to the group. For example: “Hey everyone, Fatima has painted a picture of her mom and her ” Show the painting to the class. As you hand it back, speak loud enough for the class to hear you say, “Thank you, Fatima!”
  • Make your way around the room, interacting with each child in this manner.

Notes
A tabletop water fountain immediately engages children. They are eager to explore it and are delighted that they are allowed to do so. The sound and feel of water has a regulating effect for everyone, but is especially effective for individuals with sensory processing delays, including those sometimes associated with ASD. Children should be allowed to paint with their fingers if they choose.

I recommend using relatively small-sized paper, as it requires finer movements of the hands, which helps to calm and focus the children. I use 5” x 8” blank index cards.

Children always welcome positive acknowledgment from a caring adult. When they are asked to tell you about their work it sends the message that what they are doing, thinking, and feeling is important. It also gives them practice in reflecting on their actions and recognizing that actions have causes. When you share their work with the class, you are helping each child feel connected to their peer group. You are also demonstrating that every child has something to offer.

 

This lesson plan aligns with the following Early Learning Content Standards in the state of Ohio:

  • Use imagination and creativity to interact with objects and materials.
  • Express individuality, life experiences, and what he/she knows and is able to do through a variety of media,
  • Express interest in and show appreciation for the creative work of others.
  • Demonstrate understanding that symbols carry meaning and use symbols to represent thinking.
  • With modeling and support, explore the properties of objects and materials (e.g., solids and liquids).
  • Use language to communicate in a variety of ways with others, to share observations, ideas and experiences; problem-solve, reason, predict, and seek new information.

 

A headshot photo of Darren Thompson, man with light hair and a beard, wearing glasses.Darren Thompson is a Creative Arts Specialist employed by Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities in Columbus, Ohio. He teaches art at The Early Childhood Education and Family Center in a fully inclusive setting. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art, a Master’s Degree in Education, and is a licensed Early Childhood Educator and Intervention Specialist. He is a frequent guest speaker at The Ohio State University College of Social Work and College of Arts and Sciences. Thompson presented at the 2016 VSA Ohio Arts and Autism Conference and is on the planning committee for the 2017 convening.

Preparing Art Teachers to Work with Students with Disabilities throughout their Careers

Six adults looking at pieces of wood while they collaborate on an art project.

Educators participate in an art education symposium at Moore College of Art and Design.

At Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, preparing art teachers to work successfully with students with disabilities is at the core of their art education programs. From their undergraduate art education major, to the Master of Arts in Art Education with an Emphasis in Special Populations program, to their art education symposiums, helping current and future educators make art accessible to all students is an institutional priority.

Assistant Professor Amanda Newman-Godfrey says preparing Moore students to serve people with disabilities in the art classroom is a thread that runs through everything they do. That begins with first year undergraduate students in the Art Education program, who get hands-on experience in creating and implementing art curriculum for a diverse aging population thanks to a partnership with the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.

From there, Newman-Godfrey says undergraduate students take several different classes that address working with students with disabilities, to include topics such as differentiated assessment and instruction strategies, Universal Design for Learning, and the history and regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The hallmark undergraduate course is a Special Populations class, which offers Moore students the opportunity to teach art to students with disabilities alongside a certified special education teacher. In Special Populations, Moore undergraduates plan lessons and learn how to be observant, reflective, and thoughtful in the classroom so they can be constantly adjusting, modifying, and adapting based on the needs of their young students.

Moore’s Master of Arts in Art Education with an Emphasis in Special Populations graduate program similarly launches students into a hands-on learning experience, through partnerships with the Barnes Foundation and SpArc Philadelphia. Graduate students create and implement lesson plans for the SpArc participants based on artwork from the Barnes Collection. Graduate Program Director Lauren Stichter notes that graduate students often enter the program eager for mentors and peers to connect with, as it can be hard to find others with an interest in art and special education in their home communities.

A woman with blonde hair and a black dress standing in front of an urn with branches

Lauren Stichter

For art educators seeking a continuing education opportunity, Moore offers semi-annual symposia on topics in art and special education. The next symposium, Going Beyond the Art Room: Engaging Diverse Learners in Museum and Community Arts Settings, is on April 1. At that event, attendees will have the opportunity to visit neighboring sites, including the Barnes Foundation and Franklin Institute, to experience hands-on learning with inclusive tools. Stichter says a goal of the symposium is to make teachers more comfortable accessing local museums with all students. The symposia, now in their eighth year, usually attract about 100 educators.

Stichter, Newman-Godfrey, and their students at Moore are eager to share their work in art and special education with others, and are able to do so through partnerships with local arts organizations and colleges. Stichter says sharing promising practices across the field can only increase everyone’s success in the classroom, and ultimately make more art teachers comfortable and ready to work with students with disabilities.