Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Importance of Creativity at Work

I’m attending an online conference this week about being a professional fundraiser and one of the things that surprised me most yesterday was the nearly 2 hours they devoted to creativity at work. We know how vital “play time” is for kids, but as adults, do we REALLY need to take a break every now and then for ourselves?

The answer is YES. Much in the same way that doctors recommend you get up every hour to stretch your legs, taking a break to do something as small as doodle for 5 minutes can break up monotony in the day and reset your brain. Now, I am lucky enough to work for an arts organization so opportunities arise where I at times get to spend an entire afternoon making posters or paper flowers for an event. Sometimes I get to make videos and interview artists, then write about them. Sometimes I get to write for this awesome blog. I will tell you now that all of those opportunities make me better at my job on a daily basis.

You don’t have to work for an arts organization to get a creative break, though. Take a picture of something you saw outside with your phone. In between phone calls, make up a silly rhyme and write it down. Doodle your name in block letters or draw a flower. Do something that feels a little fun and you will be amazed at how much more productive you can be.

Today, I’ve decided that my creative outlet was making this little headpiece for my dog Maisie’s FIRST birthday! She was found on the streets of San Antonio last summer and made the move to VSA Texas with me soon after I brought her home. What a year it has been for this little pup!
Maisie, a dog with brown two tone fur, celebrates her birthday with a red paper flower her mom made for her behind her ear. She is not happy about it.

This is how art plays into a successful society. The very things that we reward ourselves with are actually helping us. Sort of like when our parents sent us to the swimming pool when we were little. We thought it was because we had been good while they knew it would allow us to get exercise without realizing it (and it got us out of their hair, too). Just because something is fun doesn’t mean it isn’t good for your well-being.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Telling Our Stories

We have been hosting a series of Digital Storytelling classes this spring called “It’s My Story” for young adults with disabilities ages 16-22. So far we have had an introductory class taught by our UT work-study student Adrianna Matthews, a stop motion animation class taught by Johnny Villarreal of The Edge of Imagination Station, and a theater/improv class taught by Dana Sayre. All three classes were small, with six students in each. I think small was okay in this case because the students were expressing their own stories, so having an intimate and safe space was a good thing.

In the Introduction to Digital Storytelling class, we learned three different computer programs: Voki, Slidestory, and GoAnimate. All three programs were fun and different. Adrianna wrote about her experience teaching this class in her blog It's My Story: February 2017. After the class, she reflected that “each one of the students in the It's My Story class had powerful unique stories and journeys to share. Their creativity and knowledge both inspired and amazed me as both a teacher and an artist.”

The next class was Video Storytelling over Spring Break. In four days, our team of students, led by Dana, identified a theme, chose characters and settings, created backdrops, brought in props and costumes, improvised scenes, wrote a script, and then acted out the scenes, which were edited into a movie.
It’s My Story students Sydney and Christian review their lines with instructor Dana.
I was amazed by the teamwork of this group. No one tried to take over with their own ideas of how to create this final movie. They seamlessly blended their ideas to create "Music is Good," an 18-minute movie that touches on the subjects of alcoholism, mental health challenges, and morality with a cast that included a drifter, a ghost, a priest, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, a guy named Ben, and his fairy. All of the students stepped into their roles with enthusiasm and their final product shows that. I encourage you to take the time to watch "Music is Good" on our YouTube channel or below:


Finally, we have also been working with our longtime friend Johnny Villarreal to bring his stop motion animation skills to a select group of students from the AISD GO Project. The students visited Johnny in his studio once a week and created short animated films with topics ranging from the environment to fairy tales to new endings to classic video games. See the GO Project students' animated videos on our YouTube channel here.
Tobin takes in the applause after playing his animation at the showcase, while Johnny pushes play to show it again.
Our next It’s My Story class is Digital Storytelling through Stop Motion Animation with Johnny Villarreal. So if you liked what you saw from our GO Project students, think about signing up for this class coming up on Saturdays in May. Details about all of our upcoming classes can be found on our website here.

Happy Storytelling!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

VSA Texas Unsung Heroine of the Week: Theresa Bond Zelazny

The Mobile Art Program was founded by Theresa Bond Zelazny in 2007 in response to her mother’s struggle fighting cancer.
Theresa Bond Zelanzy, on right, stands with two women in front of an exhibit of paintings, collage and mixed media.
Its mission is to deliver art activities, free of charge, to seniors and older adults with disabilities living in Austin, Texas. By 2012, Mobile Art (MAP) started to coordinate its efforts to work with individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's and/or dementia. All of the activities are designed to improve the lives of individuals by giving them an outlet for self-expression, restoring self-esteem, building friendships, and increasing cognitive skills that can lead to an overall stabilization in health. An exhibit of the work is generally scheduled at the location of the classes, as well as public exhibitions at the Texas State Capital building, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services building, and local galleries.

The uniqueness of MAP is that it brings art activities to the places where people live or gather for social interaction. The teaching artists visit nursing homes, adult day and community centers, and adult respite programs where they provide classes in specific mediums (ex: mosaic workshops, watercolor, collage, mixed media, etc.).
Instructor looks on as a woman in a beaded sweater paints a picture of a purple flower.
Most program activities are delivered in low-income areas of the city. While MAP is the only program in the Greater Austin area to deliver art activities and lessons to seniors, it often works with other organizations in an effort to reach individuals who can derive the greatest benefit.  MAP collaborates with AGE of Central Texas, St. David's Health Angels, and Alzheimer’s Respite Programs at St Thomas More Catholic Church, Congregation Beth Israel, and Meals on Wheels Mike's Place. It currently has an agreement with Family Eldercare to deliver art classes to 8 residential facilities operated by the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) through the Living Well! Collaboration. In 2017, VSA Texas assumed the management of Mobile Art to provide Theresa fiscal and operational support.
A man works on a sculpture made of twigs and small pieces of paper.
Theresa tells us why Mobile Art is so important:

When a Mobile Art artist enters a new facility, she is often met with skepticism and self-doubt from the clients about their ability to complete the art projects we present. Yet after a session or two and some encouragement from staff and volunteers, the participants welcome us happily and are eager to start the next project. Part of our mission is to restore self-esteem and build friendships: the benefit of this is that the seniors can see that they are able to develop a new skill and share their talents with families and the community. Plus, they learn that they are still able to be social with individuals outside of their social circle.
A woman in a wheelchair beams as she shows her self-portrait to the group.
They value our attention to everyone as an individual and as a whole group. They know that we listen to what they have to say about their current and past life situations because we often create projects from the anecdotes and stories they share with us while we are in sessions. But our participants are not the only ones who benefit from this program. Caregivers often comment to us that after an art session the care recipient’s general mood is better. He or she is more likely to participate in physical therapy and take medications with less cajolement.

We welcome Theresa and the Mobile Art Program to VSA Texas and look forward to the opportunity to expand our reach into the Greater Austin community of older adults and their families and caregivers.

For more information about the Mobile Art Program, contact info@vsatx.org.