Friday, November 17, 2017

On Display

(All photos taken by Camille Wheeler at last year's On Display at the Blanton Museum of Art)

Join Body Shift and a cast of local dancers, actors, and activists of diverse ages, abilities and backgrounds as we present Heidi Latsky's ON DISPLAY at the Blanton Museum of Art on December 3rd from 1-3:30pm.

ON DISPLAY is meant to be viewed as an art installation so you may come and go as you please during the performance time. The event is included with the cost of admission to the museum (Free for members and UT faculty/students; $9 for adults; $7 for seniors; $5 for youth; Free for children 12 years and younger; Free for active military).

Dancers of mixed abilities dressed in white form a variety of human sculptures

ON DISPLAY is a deconstructed art exhibit/fashion show and commentary on the body as spectacle and society's obsession with body image. It turns a cast of diverse and extreme bodies into a sculpture court where the performers are the sculptures. ON DISPLAY began as a simple human sculpture court and is now a movement, a growing portfolio of works that explore and demonstrate inclusion through art.

We’ve always been taught not to stare; not to look at someone deeply because it might offend them; that if someone “different” catches our eye we have objectified them. This is the life of the viewer. Alternatively, should we possess a birthmark, a glorious height, or unknown disability we risk being too noticeable and often ostracized or worse. This is the life of the viewed.

In both lives there is a harsh limitation where one does not have the time to see beyond mere characteristics and the other cannot be seen as anything but other. How can we possibly create a safer space for both to really look?

An empty wheelchair sits in the foreground with dancers forming sculptures behind

Click here to read Tanya Winters' response to her experience as a dancer with a disability taking part in On Display on the Pflueger Pedestrian Bridge and at the Blanton Museum last year.

ON DISPLAY Austin is the local platform of an annual worldwide initiative ON DISPLAY Global that evolved out of Heidi Latsky Dance’s partnership with the NYC Mayor’s Office and the UN in celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

A dancer leans against a wall while a second dancer using a wheelchair forms a different sculpture behind

Friday, November 10, 2017

Behind the Scenes at the Holiday Art Show

I know, I know, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet and all the holiday bazaars are opening their doors to entice all the early holiday shoppers. Well not to be outdone, we have a unique opportunity for our “Unique Boutique” to support artists with disabilities and VSA Texas at the same time.

We started this tradition nine years ago at our ACCESS Gallery on 34th Street off Guadalupe. After closing the gallery, we moved our little bazaar to the AGE Building where our offices are located. We took the opportunity to transform our large classroom (Room 101) into a holiday bazaar filled with lights, music, arts and crafts of all kinds, and delicious holiday smells. We have knitted dresses, jewelry, braille cards, paintings, wood carved clocks, the cutest little spoons with designer spoon handles, glassware, and so much more. Artists get 70% of the sale price and VSA Texas gets 30%.

Here's a glimpse of just what it takes to produce this thing:

1. Before we even receive the art, we alert the media and begin to promote the show on social media.
2. We send out a statewide call for art.
3. Our Artworks Director and Executive Director review submissions and determine which pieces will work best in the show.
4. Selected pieces make their way here through the mail or hand delivery and down the hall to Room 101 where everything gets categorized and unpacked.

April hauls empty cardboard boxes out of Room 101.

5. We print the artist statements to be hung in Room 101.
6. Linens get steamed, panels go up, tables pulled out, shelves painted, lights strung (BLING).

Bright overhead lights shine on the art in Room 101.

7. Showcases for jewelry and glassware are lit up (more BLING).
8. We hang the art, and everything gets put in its alluring place.
9. Pizza figures into the weeks of set-up.

Pizza pie!

...and the box it came in

10. Signage arrives for the outside of the AGE Building.
11. The banner is printed (after finding out the file isn't right and having to rush the order, but it gets done, sigh).
12. Posters and postcards arrive (poster may have a problem, but it gets resolved, another sigh).
13. Signage assembled and ready to post outside
14. Lights strung around our stellar new banner at the entrance to the show
15. The opening reception is around the corner: food ordered, people invited, hair pulled, “where is that battery for our lights???”

Whew! And that doesn't even cover it. After several months of preparation and promotion, we finally open the show, and it’s MAGIC. We have over 70 original pieces on display with multiple replacements, so we are really looking at hundreds of items ready to be sold.

“Cat” painting by Allison Merriweather

Fused glass tray made by Jordana Gerlach

Be sure to join us for our Preview Party Monday, November 13th, from 6:00-8:00 PM in Room 101 of the AGE of Central Texas Building off 38th Street, east of Guadalupe. Look for the signs! Direct yourself to 3707 Home Lane for the most convenient entrance. All doors are locked for this secret event, but phone numbers will be posted so that we can let you in. RSVP and invite your friends to our Facebook event page here.

AND REMEMBER THE MOST IMPORTANT PART: This is an opportunity for these artists to showcase their talent, be recognized, and sell their art! Every year I have a favorite piece, and this year it's a wonderful Flamenco Dancer (below), but I also like the fused glass wind chimes. Hmmm...

“Flamenco Dancers at Fiesta” by Miguel Vasquez

Fused glass wind chimes made by Sue Lloyd-Ducette

Thursday, November 2, 2017

VSA Texas Unsung Hero of the Week: Victor Gallo

The VSA Texas family learned of the passing of a good friend and creative soul this week. We were saddened to hear that Victor Gallo is no longer with us. He was a wonderful young man who has been involved with our programs since 2011. Victor was a student in our first New Media Arts Summer Camp where he learned about arts and technology – two things Victor was very interested in.

Victor and the NMA Crew doing a photo shoot with a cool old car

A volunteer, Victor, and Michael wearing their Apple T-Shirts after a visit to the Apple Store

Victor returned in Summer 2012 to our Music Camp. This time he was a volunteer helping others learn techniques in digital recording and sound. The three photos below show Victor working with Jourdan on recording a song during that camp:

Victor loved music! It was something he was passionate about. He created eerie and beautiful music on his keyboard, some of which you can hear on his website here. He also loved to dance and once proposed hosting a dance party at VSA Texas. He was a regular at our original Open Mic at Access Gallery in 2012 and often showed us his short films when it was his turn. He even debuted his short film “No More Nukes” at our Disability From Real to Reel Film Festival in 2012. Victor was always fun to be around. We will miss his presence greatly!

Victor playing a kettle drum

Victor drumming while Krisha plays harmonica at the Open Mic

Friday, October 27, 2017

VSA Texas Unsung Hero of the Week: Silva Laukkanen

Photo of Silva

Today’s unsung hero is a woman who is very dear to my heart. Silva Laukkanen arrived in Austin in 2009 and immediately made her home in the Body Shift community. She has been a tireless advocate for inclusive community dance ever since. As she prepares to leave Austin to pursue a new adventure in Albuquerque, I am reminded of all the laughter and all the tears we have shared. Life in Austin won’t be the same without her, but life in Albuquerque is about to get a whole lot sweeter.

Why do I think Silva is an unsung hero? Well, for one reason, she never says no to any idea. It has always been “Yes, and…” with Silva. Although she will be the first to tell you that this habit has not always been easy, she bounces back and always says “Yes!” to the next opportunity. She has an opinion on just about everything and is not shy in letting you know it. However, she rarely takes credit for all that she has done and the lives that she has touched, and so today I want to acknowledge her for all that she is and all that she has done for me and VSA Texas.

Taking photos during Bridging the Gap rehearsal on Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge

Without her ‘can do’ attitude, we would not have our wonderful movement class at Rosedale School. We would not have had our marvelous experience with Stephen Koplowitz at Sparky Park. We would not have joined Heidi Latsky in her global On Display annual recognition of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Our work with Nina Martin would not have the richness that it has developed. We would not have had our boundaries stretched by working with Gerda K├Ânig and Mahesh. And her tireless advocacy, along with strong support from Olivia O’Hare, brought Alito Alessi to Austin; changing the way we look at inclusive dance and significantly influencing how we teach our Elements classes. She has touched the lives of incarcerated women, disabled veterans, pre-kindergarten and elementary school children needing love and support, mothers and daughters, teachers, college students both with and without disabilities, dancers of all abilities, and the VSA family of individuals with diverse abilities.

Silva, Celia and Olivia, the dynamic trio, planning another choreographer residency

Managing a career, while co-raising three children under the age of 9 with her husband Charles, has provided Silva an opportunity to lose sleep, be in three places at once, and forget how to speak English once in awhile. But she knows what the word friend means, and she is a perfect example of loyalty and dedication.

Silva and Sarra during On Display at the Blanton Museum

As her departure appears on the horizon, I will not say goodbye, but instead, see you soon. I wish you and your family good fortune, fun adventures, and new beginnings. I love you and will miss you – a lot. Thank you for being my friend.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Lion and Pirate (in Costume!)

Hey everyone! This is Eric, your friendly neighborhood OMOD coordinator and open mic co-host, here to tell you about a special Halloween edition of our Lion and Pirate coming up next Sunday, October 29th, from 1:30-3:30 PM, and trust me, you do not want to miss out. Why, you ask? Well to start, it will be one of those rare opportunities where you get to see yours truly in costume – and it's a pretty good costume, if I say so myself. And if that isn't enough, you'll get to hear me sing a song or two with a new musical collaborator (Who is it? You've got to come and find out!)

Playing with my friend Chris at the last open mic
(Photo courtesy of Malvern Books)

We are also excited to have several Opening Minds, Opening Doors (OMOD) speakers join us to share some of their all-time (mis-) adventures in costume, while also in costume. Mind-blowing? I think so. We hope to make this OMOD presence a staple of the Lion and Pirate by also making the open mic our monthly OMOD meet-up. So expect to see more OMOD speakers sharing stories and wisdom at the open mic in the coming months! Also, if you can make it out for the open mic this month, be sure to join the OMOD crew right after the open mic for pizza at Austin's Pizza 29th St. (2928 Guadalupe St., Austin, TX 78705) where the fun will continue and you can find out how you too can become an OMOD speaker.

So dust off that costume or pick out a new one and bring your talented self down to Malvern Books (613 W. 29th St., Austin, TX 78705) next Sunday, October 29th, from 1:30-3:30 PM for a fun afternoon! Contact me if you have any questions or would like a free costume consultation; email me at or call the VSA office at 512-454-9912. You can also find event updates, RSVP, and invite your friends on our open mic Facebook event page here. Malvern Books is close to Cap Metro bus routes 1, 3, and 22. You may want to arrive early to find a parking space or park at Cabo Bob's across the street, as they are closed on Sundays. See you there!

Mac the Corgi puppy dressed up as Chewbacca. What are you going to be? 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Body Shift Elements Teacher Profile: Lauren Tietz and Tuning Scores

Originally written and posted October 10, 2017 by Olivia O'Hare on the Body Shift blog. Reposted with permission. Photos courtesy of Amber Ortega.

In order to enhance our practice of moving together this month we have invited guest artist, Lauren Tietz, to our Elements class to teach movement from a somewhat different perspective. She will offer an exploration of Lisa Nelson’s Tuning Scores which, similar to the DanceAbility method, uses more open directives to allow freedom to move in ways that feel good to your body no matter what your abilities or experience level are.

Tuning Scores are a fascinating mosaic of movement and performance discoveries originated by Lisa Nelson. Tuning Scores reveal the basic elements of action, by attuning to the rich details of composition, behavior, and communication, altogether. The games are a multisensorial and kaleidoscopic set of practices that are wildly fun to do. Through the specificity of solo movement warm ups, group dancing, and verbal cues, tuning lays out an approach for performance research that can change how you make, perceive, and do in any creative medium.

Tuning Scores are an intriguing way to investigate fundamental elements of performance, movement behavior, and communication, altogether. The explorations illuminate how we compose perception through action; in other words, we learn how what we see is inextricably linked to how we see, through our multisensorial layers of observation. In “tuning,” we practice together, using both movement and verbal calls. Through these, we communicate our desires, our imagination, and our memory, in a shared image space. And with this material, we compose live art, together.

Margit Galanter and Lauren Tietz during Margit’s 2017 Tuning Scores workshop

Lauren is delighted by the poetics of the everyday- holding hands in public, the color of beet borscht, the dull circular sound of feet against a dry limestone creek bed. She is intrigued with the experience of small, daily things and the cumulative impressions they make on the human body over time. Her work seeks to expose, through movement, sound and image, a certain immediacy of vulnerability and intimacy.

Lauren is a dancer, somatic movement educator, craniosacral therapist, Pilates instructor and filmmaker based in Austin. As an artist and healing arts practitioner she loves to uncover the intelligence of the body, its nuance, poetry and wise council. She savors this relationship of body to language, inner to outer. She believes the body’s expression of movement is our birthright and it is with delight that she shares this work with people of all ages, backgrounds or experience level.

Photo taken during Margit Galenter’s 2017 Tuning Scores workshop

So be sure to join us for this month's special edition of our bimonthly Elements class every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month (this month it will be October 14th and 28th) from 2:30-4:30pm at Town Lake YMCA in the large group exercise room on the first floor.

No gym membership is required to attend. Open to adults age 16 and up; all abilities and experience levels. No registration necessary and fee for class is on a sliding scale from $5-$20, cash or check accepted. See you at the Y!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Another Day of Art at Moody Gardens

I know you have missed me and my blog entries. This is Lynn here at VSA Texas. My most favorite activity is a spectacular event called Art in the Gardens, which is our annual outdoor hands-on festival for kids of all ages with disabilities, held at the famous Moody Gardens® in Galveston. A week ago today was our sixth annual Art in the Gardens festival, and this year’s theme was “Stars of the Sea” in celebration of Moody Gardens' newly refurbished Aquarium. It was a bright sunny day with high humidity, but the water was beautiful and the breeze was blowing. Perfect day. April and I got there early and set up our art activities. Then volunteers started rolling in, and the first performers arrived and began drumming to get us all in the mood for a good time.

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 riding 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.

Even though Hurricane Harvey battered southeastern Texas just a month earlier, arts organizations in the area rallied and came out to provide art activities for more than 400 attendees. Among the activities were great jellyfish cutouts with the Junior League of Galveston County, paper plate fishbowl making with The Kids Club of UTM School of Nursing, decorating king and queen crowns with Galveston Arts Center, and making “Stars of the Sea” headbands with Moody Gardens. A man in a shark suit could also be spotted visiting with all the kids and bringing friendly shark smiles everywhere.

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

Chalk drawing (below) was also a big hit for everyone. In most cases, we connected big plastic apparatuses with chalk to kids' wheelchairs to facilitate making their own chalk art. Other kids would run around excitedly pushing the chalk apparatuses like old lawn mowers. All the kids seemed to head straight for that activity as they entered the tented pavilion.

Kids traverse the colorful, chalk-covered concrete floor of the pavilion. Note the chalk drawing apparatus.

Lots of great performers were also present to entertain our folks. Joy of Djembe Drumming started off the morning with lots of drumming, and a conga line slowly formed. Later, the wonderful Down Syndrome Association of Houston rocked the floor with “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” (seen in the video below).

Texas A&M University at Galveston Two Steps followed that up with their country western thang, which was fabulous. Afterwards we ate lunch with all the volunteers provided by Moody Gardens, then cleared away all our sea gear, shook hands, hugged, and said “yeah! another great year” and the kids danced and sang and swayed and enjoyed going to the Aquarium Pyramid compliments of Moody Gardens. Thank you Galveston and Moody Gardens for participating and providing another great day for all the kids, parents, and teachers. Looking forward to next year’s theme!