Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What Are You Thankful For?

Happy Thanksgiving friends and supporters of VSA Texas! As this is the official day for giving thanks, we would like to share with you what we are thankful for:

I am thankful for the amount of creativity I have in my life. As every artist knows, it is really hard to make your living just by your artwork alone. So I must have a job. But I don’t mind at all, because I love my job. I get a chance to interact with artists and writers and dancers and singers on a daily basis and that makes my life more enriched and fuels my creativity when I do get a chance to create my own art. So thank you to all of the artists out there. Keep it up!
April Sullivan creating a yarn painting during the East Austin Studio Tour. Wearing a t-shirt designed by artist Steve Connor. (Photo taken by Jennifer M. Ramos

I struggle every year at this time to name what it is I am thankful for. I was raised in a home where we didn’t talk about our feelings, and what is Thanksgiving about if it isn’t about your feelings? But, because I have been given the assignment to cast out into the air my thankfulness, I will. I am thankful I have two brothers who love me warts and all, and who didn’t kill me those many years ago, although they tried their best. I am thankful for good friends who listen to my rantings and know that I just really, really care about all things vulnerable and powerless and want the world to be a better place. I am thankful that I have a challenging but rewarding job, working with people whom I admire and respect. I am thankful, although Austin is changing and growing in ways that I don’t like, that it still is one of the best places to live when you dislike the cold and snow and ice. And, finally, I am thankful that I still have all my five senses in good working order, that my intellect and cognition continue to keep me upright and forging ahead, and that the absence of TV and other media from my home has kept my sanity somewhat intact. Although some would question that last one.
Celia and her trusty steed in Iceland earlier this year

5 Things I’m Thankful for:

  • Dogs! Because of their ears. I love to pet a dog’s ears! Dog ear therapy!
  • The Instacart app. Delivering groceries to my house? Way worth it!
  • People who get right to the point
  • My support system (aka Mom)
  • My boss for her accommodating nature (she lets me sleep at work!!)

A German Shepherd puppy with ears forming a triangle over its head peers over a fence.
A gray and white basset hound with huge outstretched ears like an elephant stares straight at the camera.

First and foremost I am thankful for parents who taught me the golden rule, to embrace diversity, and to value giving to those who are hurting and especially those who are spiritually depleted. I am also thankful for being accepted at VSA Texas by such fun loving and conscientious individuals that raise me up to be a better person and help raise my awareness of folks with different needs. A special shout out to an amazing brother that challenges me to cook better, read more, take better photographs, and be good to myself. And even though he thinks he's right about everything, he usually has pretty good reasoning to substantiate his rightness. Darn he is so witty. Of course there are other family and friends that always provide me with wonderful sources of entertainment and wittiness as well, including play time with my great nephew. I am thankful for my theatre family and my film family who amazingly I still know throughout the years and we still pick up where we left off. Lastly I cannot thank enough the brave and courageous women that went before me to pave the way towards equality for women, those suffragettes, those in the background that fought the way for me to vote. I am grateful for the freedoms I have and hope to continue to have. I hope I can still fight the good fight for freedoms for everybody and am grateful again to my parents, that through their wisdom I learned to think for myself, make my mistakes, and make my choices knowing I would one day understand the wisdom in them.
VSA Texas staff members pose atop the snow-covered Great Wall of China with the help of a
choose-your-own-background phone app.
VSA Texas staff with the addition of new Development Director Janelle line up before a dozen flip charts posted on a white wall at the 2016 staff retreat.

I am thankful for my new home and even more for surviving another move with the added stress of remodeling that home for accessibility. Now that we're all moved in, I am happy to say it was well worth the wait and I finally live in a home designed with my needs in mind! I am also thankful for my creativity and for the people and organizations (VSA included) that consistently provide opportunities for me to express that creativity. Last, as with every other year, I am thankful for my family, friends, co-workers, personal care attendants, and I hope to add a dog and a new wheelchair to the list sometime during the next year!
Eric and friend Ryan perform a song at the VSA TX/CTD-sponsored Lion and Pirate open mic
(Photo courtesy of Malvern Books)

And last but certainly not least, on behalf of everyone here at VSA Texas, we would like to thank all of our generous friends and supporters – be they donors, teaching artists, contractors, volunteers, program participants and their families, or members of our statewide community of artists with disabilities and veterans. Your support in whatever form you express it means the world to us!

Okay, enough blogging for us! We want to know what you are thankful for! So if you can spare a moment on your turkey day, please leave us a comment below and tell us what you cherish most.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

OMOD San Antonio

Hey everyone! This is your friendly OMOD project coordinator here with the latest in OMOD news. Over the past six weeks, we took the OMOD program on the road yet again – this time to San Antonio. We partnered with the Center for Higher Independence (CHI) at Providence Place to provide an OMOD class to participants of the CHI program and members of the San Antonio community at large. We ultimately served eight participants in our program mostly from Providence Place. As for classroom assistants, we assembled an all-star team in Austin OMOD graduates Jennifer McKinney and Nissi Salazar, OMOD project facilitator Nicole Cortichiato, and veteran OMOD videographer and long-distance driver Nic Hester. Providence Place provided us with a rotating cast of staff members to make up the difference, and we even reached out to our original instructor extraordinaire Chris Strickling in Izamal, Mexico for her suggestions and revisions, and she truly was the secret weapon, ingredient, magician, story whisperer – I think you get the idea – of the class.

The San Antonio program was much like any other OMOD class, only with the addition of hellish traffic and Schlotzsky's on the way home. Whereas in our El Paso and Houston classes we contracted with local writing instructors to facilitate the classes, this time, with San Antonio much closer than the previous two long-distance programs, we decided to commute back and forth to San Antonio for six consecutive Tuesdays. Although we were present and on the ground for every class and thus eliminated the extra, often unreliable layer of Skype to reckon with, the San Antonio class did present its own set of challenges – as does most any class anywhere – but through creative problem solving and advice from OMOD staff members near and far, we were able to surmount each challenge with relative ease.
The San Antonio group sits in front of the packed cafeteria waiting for the showcase to begin. 
In typical OMOD style, the final class showcase evoked honesty, warmth, and humor through the telling of real personal stories capable of upending the dominant narratives told about people with disabilities. We heard stories about transformation, likes/dislikes, vacation adventures, pets, acting, bullying, friendship, aspirations, and independence. As OMOD instructors and staff members, we can never anticipate exactly how the audience will receive the showcase stories and we rarely expect which specific presentation tips or strategies will resonate with which participants – for some it's using hand gestures or eye contact; for others it may be losing their scripts in favor of remembering key points, or incorporating photos or other visual media to supplement a presentation by someone with difficulty reading or slow speech – but as long as we all show up, remain patient, and keep our faith in the process, we almost always succeed. Our showcase might have been on the shorter side, but it packed a punch I'm sure the audience will not soon forget!
Hannah smiles while presenting her story at the San Antonio class showcase.
Thanks again to Providence Place for hosting our OMOD class and to our myriad assistants, staff, and volunteers who made it possible!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Circle of Gifting

Hi everyone! It is April here and guess what! It is time for our annual Holiday Art and Gift Show at VSA Texas. This is our 8th annual exhibition of great art and gift items made by Texas artists with disabilities. If you haven’t been before, or even if you have, I highly suggest you attend. This is an event we started back in 2009 when we had our gallery. Who remembers Access Gallery? I miss that quiet little spot on Guadalupe. But even when we closed the gallery, we continued this show, because it is a way for us to showcase the talent of our artists from all over the state. We turn our classroom 101 into a shopping extravaganza. And I must say, the room really looks great this year (thanks to the fresh vision of our new staff member Janelle, who also took the photos for this blog, so you will see what I mean by vision)!

Here is why you should come shop at our Holiday Art and Gift Show. We are calling it the Circle of Gifting:
  • You buy something you like at our Holiday Show.
  • You give VSA Texas the money.
  • We give 70% of that money to the artist who created the art.
  • We take the remaining 30% and use it to keep our outstanding programs going.
  • Then you give that gift to your friend.
  • Your friend now knows about VSA Texas and may know someone who can benefit from our programs.
  • They send their friend to VSA Texas.
  • Maybe that friend is an artist and enters next year’s Holiday Art and Gift Show.
And it just keeps going! Don’t you want to be a part of that? I know I do. So come visit our Holiday Show. Here are the details:

Our shop will be open Monday-Saturday from 10am-4pm each day in Room 101 of the AGE Building. Come to 3707 Home Lane, Austin, TX 78705 and follow the signs for the closest entrance.
Poster for the Holiday Show

Here is a sneak peak of the show:

An overview of the exhibit
Lightcatchers by Sue Ducett-Lloyd of Austin, TX
Mugs by David Lamb-Vines of Lubbock, TX
Jewelry by Denise Knebel of San Antonio, TX
This is just a small sample of what you have to look forward to when you come to the VSA Texas Holiday Art and Gift Sale. We open up next Monday and run through Christmas Eve. Have you ever seen a Thanksgiving card? In Braille? Well, we have them! And you can be the unique person who sends one to a friend and starts the circle of gifting.