Thursday, August 9, 2018

Top 10 Reasons to Enter Your Artwork in Our Holiday Art and Gift Show

Hey Artists (and Shoppers!),

Our 10th Annual Holiday Art and Gift Show is coming up in November/December of this year and we want to celebrate big. Our first step is to get some great art, so here is why you should enter your art into this exhibition:

Photo of art-packed room from one of our first holiday art shows
  1. The Holiday Art and Gift Show is our highest selling art show of the year at VSA Texas.
  2. The show is up for 6 weeks during the busiest shopping season of the year.
  3. You don’t have to be here in person to sell your work. We have friendly staff on site ready to talk up your art for you.
  4. We only take a small 30% commission on sales. The artist gets the remaining 70%.
  5. We handle the sales tax so you don’t need your own permit.
  6. We are open to fine art, crafts, CDs, books, or any other creative homemade product you are interested in submitting.
  7. Artists with disabilities from across Texas can participate as long as you can get your art to us.
  8. We pay for the return shipping of anything that doesn’t sell.
  9. There is no fee to enter.
  10. This is our 10th year hosting this art show and we want to celebrate with the best work available from Texas artists!

Custom aprons, mugs, oven mitts, and potholders from our very first holiday show

Headpiece made with peacock and other feathers from an early holiday art show

Sounds great, right? The first step is to ask for an entry form. Contact April at april@vsatx.org or 512-454-9912 to get an application.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Land and Sea at Moody Gardens

One of my favorite activities at VSA Texas is our annual Art in the Gardens co-sponsored by Moody Gardens in Galveston, TX. This is an outdoor hands-on festival for kids of all ages with disabilities, K-12. This year’s theme is “Land and Sea.” This year’s event will be September 20th, 2018 and only once in the last seven years has it rained, so I just know it will be a bright and sunny day overlooking the water inlet behind the big white tent where we hold our festival. On that day my co-worker April and I will roll out of our slumber, get coffee and confection, and head down to the waterfront tent where all the workers and volunteers will already be setting up. The artists providing art activities usually start checking in around 9:00 AM, and then performers start arriving and setting up on stage.

The Moody Gardens complex from the water: a white tent pavilion and 3 large glass pyramids with hotel behind
(Courtesy of Moody Gardens)

In case you didn't know, Moody Gardens began in the mid-1980s with a horse barn, a riding arena with a hippotherapy program for people with head injuries, and an extraordinary vision to create an island tourist destination. Today Moody Gardens is one of the premier educational and leisure facilities in the Southwest. It also provides horticultural therapy, education, and employment for persons with a wide range of physical and emotional disabilities.

Arts and community organizations, museums, and civic groups like the Junior League of Galveston County, UTM School of Nursing, Galveston Arts Center, and many others participate in providing art activities for over 250 kids with disabilities from Galveston County and neighboring communities including Houston.

AND who knows what kind of sea creature mascot will show up this year? Last year we had a giant shark:

The shark man complete with a green button-up shirt in a crowd of kids

Why do I love this event so much? The people and volunteers are great. The setting is perfect – outdoors with live entertainment and art activities set with a gorgeous backdrop of the bay and big paddleboat. The families and kids that come just love running around and enjoying all the activities.

So if you or your organization wants to provide an art activity or perform at this fun event, send me an email at lynn@vsatx.org. We would love to have you participate!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Happy Birthday, ADA!

Today the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 28! This day is always a big celebration for me because it serves as a reminder of the incredible accomplishments of the disability rights movement, and although we are frequently ignored and left out of wider discussions of civil rights, the ADA validates our identity as a minority group. And, coincidentally, this day doubles as my anniversary with my partner who also has a disability, the significance of which is not lost on me. For on one hand, our lives, our successes, even our relationship owes gratitude to the civil rights the ADA has granted us, while on the other, our inability to get married without losing vital services reflects how much work still lies ahead of us as a social movement. And really, the penalties endured by people with disabilities who seek marriage are just one of the many social challenges we face – any person with a disability can tell you of struggles with healthcare, low caregiver wages, housing, and even areas the ADA was passed to address, like employment and accessibility.

Iconic image of activists crawling up the steps of the U.S. Capitol building in support of the ADA
(Photo courtesy of Tom Olin/Disability History Museum)

For many, the ADA conjures the image of disabled activists ditching their wheelchairs to crawl up the Capitol steps or George Bush, Sr. signing the bill into law while surrounded by the parents of the ADA on the White House lawn. For me, it brings to mind the songs, the slogans, the battle cries, the poems, the stories. So perhaps it is fitting I find myself working in the arts wing of the movement where we fight to ensure everyone has the right and the opportunity to express themselves creatively, to tell their stories in whatever medium serves them best. And art is one of the most effective ways to break down social stigmas and bridge connections with those who see only a wall of difference, to move hearts when minds have closed. The disability rights movement calls for action of all kinds, and art is one of them.

President George H.W. Bush signing the ADA into law on the White House lawn. Surrounding him are disability advocates Rev. Harold Wilke, Evan Kemp, Sandra Parrino, and Justin Dart Jr.
(Photo courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

So if you are still seeking your role in the movement, maybe give the arts a try. Or even if you find direct action like the Capitol Crawl or civil disobedience to be most rewarding, you can view the arts as another set of tools to add to your activist toolkit. Whatever path you choose, we hope you have a lovely ADA Anniversary! Be proud of the hard-fought accomplishments of the disability rights movement and keep up the great work our previous generations began. And if you live in Austin, we hope you can join us as we celebrate the ADA at our Opening Minds, Opening Doors Speaking Advocates group this Saturday, July 28th, 1-3 PM and continue the tradition of storytelling to effect change. Happy ADA!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Five Tips For Supporting Students With Disabilities in Classroom Settings

Hello, my name is Adrianna Matthews. I am a former VSA Texas Work Study Student and Project Assistant. I was first introduced to VSA Texas in April 2016 through discussing my interest in disability and art with Celia Hughes. Shortly after that conversation I got involved with VSA Texas and began to think more about student-teacher relationships in terms of working together to accommodate students with disabilities in a classroom space.

Photo of me working with students in our It's My Story Workshop

My first experience teaching students with disabilities was facilitating VSA Texas’ It's My Story Digital Storytelling Workshop of February 2017. This was also the first time I worked as a teacher who identified as a person with a disability, so at times, it became quite challenging to balance my personal needs with my students’ needs. Nonetheless, I quickly learned how to accommodate both my students and myself.

It is important to make sure students with disabilities receive their accommodations so that they feel supported and can work and engage effectively in their academic abilities. I know this from my own experience in graduate school. I have also witnessed how unsuccessful students with disabilities can be and feel when they are not accommodated.

Circle of students and volunteers sharing stories in It's My Story Workshop

When creating the curriculum I was more prepared to work with individuals with visual impairments than any other types of disabilities. This was because I have a visual impairment myself, and so I tend to focus more on how visual limitations may impact academic success than anything else. This became especially apparent in working with a deaf student in the workshop. I assumed that since I had two ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters I was prepared as a facilitator to effectively engage with this particular student. However, what I didn’t realize is that ASL interpreters tend to sign with clients across the room. So when I initially tried to help the student complete her assignment, I accidentally stood in the way of her ASL interpreter! I was actually just trying to get closer to her computer screen to read her work because my visual impairment means I can only read things up close. Through this experience, I realized I had to be more conscious of how I positioned my body when interacting with this student so that both of our needs could be met. But I probably could have avoided this mistake had I done more research on working with students with different disabilities and learned effective strategies to better engage with them.

That is just one of the many lessons I have learned through my experience teaching students with disabilities. Here are some other tips that can help teachers work more effectively with their students:
  1. Always acknowledge students’ accommodations.
  2. Provide training for teachers, aides, and assistants to effectively and inclusively work with their students with disabilities.
  3. See the student first and the disability second, but acknowledge the disability and the students’ needs.
  4. Encourage students with disabilities to move past their challenges and achieve their academic goals.
  5. Teach students without disabilities how to effectively work with and support their fellow classmates with disabilities.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Audio Description in St. Louis

This week I had the opportunity to hang out with over 200 of the hardest working animals in the country.  That’s right – guide dogs for people who are blind. I was at the annual convention for the American Council of the Blind (ACB) in St. Louis, attending the Audio Description (AD) track.

A view from downtown of the St. Louis Arch, which frames the dome of the State Capitol building

It was three days of knowledge-packed presentations and discussions, where the most talked about topic was the upcoming ACB initiative to develop a national certification process for describers. They have contracted with the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Education Professionals to develop this process, and will be convening individuals to form a subject content committee to work with them by September of this year. It will be a lengthy process in order to develop the best certification standards and exam, so stay tuned as they are just getting started.

One aisle of the conference exhibiters, filled with customers and smiling dogs

The conference convened on July 1st, which coincidently was the day that audio description in the top nine broadcast areas in the country increased from 50 to 87.5 hours per week, although several broadcasters already exceed this number. Kudos to them! Representatives from Amazon and Comcast were there to talk about the latest developments in content delivery. With the new digital technology and hundreds of channels and content providers, in order to get AD on your TV, you have to turn it on at the source – antenna, satellite, and cable. You can learn more about ACB's Audio Description Project here. And if you want more description on TV, please contact the providers, and your congressmen, as it is critical that they hear from you!

We also learned about UniDescription, a project of the National Park Service (NPS) and University of Hawaii. The NPS has also been working on an app where people can access described brochures and maps of many of the National Parks with the plan to have all National Park brochures available through description on this app, both on Android and Apple. The brand-new gateway park and museum at the St. Louis Arch opened on July 4th, and they expected 40,000 people to attend the first day. The NPS worked with them on their interactive exhibits, so they were glad to be a part of the festivities. And I imagine some of those hard-working dogs got to enjoy it also!

A curly, red-haired Marilee Talkington shares some of her stories in front of a projection of her photo.
One of the highlights of the three days was hearing from Marilee Talkington, acclaimed actor, writer, and director. She talked about pursuing her chosen career in the arts as a legally blind individual. She started as a stage actor, but was recently a guest artist on the “Sight Unseen” episode on NCIS. One of the amazing but unsurprising stats she cited was that 9 out of 10,000 actors in Hollywood – TV and movies – have disabilities. Nine. Let that sink in for a moment. And we wonder why there is such an uproar when a disabled individual is played by an able-bodied actor. Listening to how Marilee fought to be auditioned and cast at all is a testament to her grit and determination! Thank you for fighting to not only blast open the door for you to enter, but also for the many who are standing right behind you.

I didn't see much of St. Louis, but that’s okay because it was hot and steamy outside. At the end of the day, my brain was full of all things audio description, and that’s just the way it was way meant to be.

A man indulges in a catnap in an ornate hotel lobby.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Peer to Peer

We were invited for the second time to run the Peer to Peer portion of the annual Parent to Parent conference. This event is hosted by Texas Parent to Parent, a statewide non-profit that does great work of educating and supporting parents of children with disabilities. Their annual conference is a big hit with topics on all the important issues a parent needs to be aware of when raising a child with a disability as well as advice and mentoring from parents who have been in their shoes.

Families come from all over the state, from the Valley to the Panhandle and everywhere in between. And they bring the entire family because there is something for everyone at this conference. Texas Parent to Parent wants to make sure that all that come get the most out of the experience. They want the parents to be able to focus on the panel discussions and workshops. They provide a SibShop for siblings. Childcare for the young ones. And Peer to Peer for the teenagers.

That’s where we come in! Our goal is to provide stimulating arts, performance, movement, and music activities for these young adults to take part in while their parents are at the conference. This year we started with Flower Fairies. While very messy, with glue and flower petals, we got some great results and a few participants spent the entire day working with the flowers.

A mer-man decorated with flower petals

We also provided other art stations throughout the day including Egg Shakers, Drawing, Beads and Pipe Cleaners, Costumes, and Cameras. You just never know what art supply is going to be the one that captures someone’s creativity.

Grant holds up some of his pipe cleaner creations.

David wears red boxing shorts, a black cape, and a Mardi Gras mask from the costume box.

A highlight of the morning was having Zach Anner visit us! Zach is a comedian, actor, writer, and YouTube star. The teens were able to ask him questions, converse with him, and get his autograph.

Later that day we had a visiting musician, Sterling Steffan. He brought his saxophone, a violin, digital drums, a recorder, and other various instruments. Some of the students’ eyes and smiles really lit up when they had a chance to make music. Eric was especially excited by the opportunity. And his sense of rhythm was natural. The participants had a chance to step up to the mic and record their voice or playing an instrument.

Elsa plays the violin.

Day 2 was another day packed with art activities led by teaching artist Mary Oliver. Using small pizza boxes we created names on the outside and self portraits on the inside of the box.

Josh’s pizza box self portrait

We also used recycled water bottles to create Maracas. We painted them in the morning, then after a movie in the afternoon, used them in our drum circle.

The drum circle!

After two exhausting but fun days the teens were picked up by their parents to start the travel back home. So many parents were grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference and know their children were in good hands. Thanks to our friends at Texas Parent to Parent for making that possible!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Pursue Your Musical Dreams with VSA Texas

From time to time I'm asked something along the lines of "what is the most soul nourishing part of your job?" I am normally caught off guard by the directness of such a heavy question, but inevitably my mind wanders to the music and other performance opportunities offered through VSA Texas. Even to those who know me, my affinity for the stage may seem peculiar as in any other circumstance I do everything I can to avoid drawing attention to myself. Performing music on stage, however, feels liberating; I am free to make myself into someone different, to lose myself in chords, rhythms, lyrics, and in doing so, I inch closer to the person I aspire to be offstage. Call me corny, but I truly believe that playing music makes me a better human being. And that's why the highlights, or most soul nourishing moments of my job, are those where I can extend the same opportunities I have received to others.

Music is the foundation of my relationship with VSA Texas. My first involvement with the organization came in the form of volunteering in the Summer of 2012 Music and Recording Camp; then in February of 2014 I made my first serious public debut of my own music at the inaugural Lion and Pirate Open Mic, which I now co-host with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities' Pen 2 Paper Creative Writing Contest; and in January of 2017 I organized, emceed, and performed at our first VSA Texas at Library Live concert at Carver Branch Library, which was so successful the branch manager invited us to make it a quarterly concert series, which has since extended performance opportunities to twelve different musical groups. At each stop along the journey, I have been grateful to learn as much, if not more, than the performers I hope to empower, and that's how I know these programs work.

Me performing at the Lion and Pirate Open Mic. Did I mention Malvern Books takes great photos and videos of the open mic performances? Of course you can opt out, but I'd say it's super cool if you ask me!

Over the past few years, I have seen performers grow in confidence, turn a few original songs into a dozen, explore new collaborations, and seek new venues to perform. Most importantly, I have witnessed the burgeoning of an inclusive community, where performers inspire and learn from each other, lift each other up and offer encouraging words when they need to be heard. So if you are a chronic bedroom performer (like I used to be – and still am, frankly) and are ready to share your songs with the world – or even if you aren't ready – there is a place for you at our Lion and Pirate Open Mic held each month at Malvern Books (613 West 29th Street, Austin, TX 78705)! Our next four open mics are this Saturday, June 9th from 7-9 PM, Saturday, July 7th from 7-9 PM, Sunday, August 12th from 1-3 PM, and Saturday, September 15th from 7-9 PM. Join us at one or all of the above!

Flyer for our Lion and Pirate Open Mic at Malvern Books this Saturday, June 9th from 7-9 PM

And if you want to really stretch your performance muscles with a fully mic'd 25-minute set at the Carver Branch Library, email me at eric@vsatx.org to book a performance slot. If you need any added incentive, you get high quality videos of your performance (see past Library Live performances here) that you can use to promote your music and pursue future gigs. No matter your genre or level of experience, we are here to launch you where you want to go!