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

By Bev Johns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Dr. Lisa Kay

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Five Tips for Working with Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disturbances

By Sophie Lucido Johnson

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

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

 

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

Digital Storytelling Program Empowers Students with Disabilities

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

Students operate video cameras as part of the OCCTAC program.

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

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

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

An example of a storyboard created by students at OCCTAC.

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

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

Electrify! Exhibition Features 15 Outstanding Young Artists with Disabilities

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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.

Using Art Education Effectively with Students who have Experienced Trauma

A photo of a woman with long, brown hair and dark rimmed glasses, wearing a short sleeved lavender shirt and chunky beaded necklace.

Donalyn Heise

In over 30 years of teaching visual art classes in K-12 settings, one student from early in Donalyn Heise’s career continues to drive her work. “This student made the top grade in every art assignment I gave, but I failed him as a teacher because I had no idea he was flunking out of school,” says Heise. She later learned that the student’s sister had committed suicide, and that he seldom attended classes or handed in assignments outside of art. This experience drove Heise to focus her own pedagogy on what she calls a “resilience framework,” using art education as a platform to help students thrive.

Many children experience psychological trauma, to include natural or environmental disasters, domestic or societal violence, bullying, homelessness, human trafficking, or rejection of sexual identity. Heise cites research by William Steele (2002), who found that youth who experience trauma may have emotional, mental, behavioral, and physical challenges that make them less likely to succeed in school.

Inspired by her early-career experience, Heise began to search for ways to use art education to help students who have experienced trauma thrive. She focused her classes not on the students’ trauma, but on ways to strengthen their resilience. Heise is quick to point out that her work is not art therapy, but teaching the content of the art project along with mastery of the technique. She explains, “We can teach landscape, shading, other artistic techniques along with how to use art to be a student’s visual voice.”

35 paper quilts are lined up together in 4 rows (3 rows of 9, 1 row of 8). The quilts are many colors, but mostly blue, yellow, pink, purple, and orange.

A display of paper quilts created in one of Donalyn Heise’s art classes.

One visual art activity Heise uses within her resilience framework is making paper quilts. In the lesson, students draw or paint 3”x3” paper squares while listening to different pieces of music. They discuss repetition in terms of the quilt patterns, and also reflect on the things in our lives that need to be repeated and those which do not.

After creating many squares, the students exchange them with their classmates; the squares which are exchanged form the outside border of each person’s quilt. For their center square, Heise asks students to think about a challenging time in their life (but not to draw it or say it aloud), then tells them to draw their source of strength in that challenging time. “Their strength is at the center of the quilt, and they are surrounded by their community, through the classmates’ squares,” she says, adding that the quilts can be brought together for a large display, but can also be taken apart so that students can take their individual quilt home.

Heise emphasizes the importance of trying to structure one’s art education practice to reach every student, regardless of his or her ability level or personal experience. One method she suggests is to offer many choice-based adaptations in the art classroom, and to offer the adaptations to every student. “I recommend having all the students try out adaptive tools, then allow them to opt in or out of using them. The same goes for other types of scaffolds: I make sure they are offered to every student. This helps reduce judgments and blurs the lines of disability,” says Heise.

Ultimately, Heise aims to help students feel safe and successful in the routines and materials found in the visual art classroom. She says, “By teaching flexibility, mastery of something, and a vision of the future throughout our art lessons, we help students articulate and celebrate their strengths and points of joy.” Through the resilience framework, Heise hopes to teach students both artistic technique and the valuable, intangible properties of the arts.

 

Donalyn Heise will co-present a session entitled “Using Art to Reach Students Who Have Experienced Trauma” with Adrienne D. Hunter and Beverley Holden Johns at the 2017 VSA Intersections: Art and Special Education Conference.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.