Friday, September 22, 2017

Describing Art in Mandarin Chinese

Recently, I had the opportunity to go to Taiwan to train museum docents and other personnel in the art of audio description. I was working with the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts under the auspices of the Taiwan Ministry of Culture. They have launched an island-wide museum accessibility initiative, and audio description is the first item on their extensive list. There were 35+ people at the training in Taichung and an additional 50 at the workshop in Taipei. There is a great deal of excitement within the museum community about this initiative and there were several very promising describers in both groups. We worked hard for 5 days, but we also had a lot of fun. And a special shout out to Jennifer Shih Carson for her exemplary translating skills; Li Chuan Emily Wu for organizing the entire training; and, everyone who made sure my visit was comfortable and culturally satisfying. Tea, noodles, re-connecting with friends… everything a girl could wish for.

Celia with describers in training at Nat'l Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts

On the culture front, I lived in Taiwan in 1989-90, so this was a homecoming of sorts as I have not been back in 27 years. I have to say that much has changed during that time, but also much has remained the same. The small street that bordered the university I taught at has become the largest night market in Taiwan! Gone was the smiling Buddha noodle shop and in its place was a neon, amplified seller of socks, electronic gadgets, handbags, you name it. Taichung has built many tall buildings and shopping centers, and the scooters have exponentially increased, still with entire families riding on one. But the bicycles are now in racks for the tourists (if you dare!) and cars vie with the scooters for road space.

Jennifer, the workshop translator, heads off into the night on a scooter with two of her children aboard.

Taoist Temples are still in every neighborhood, and they still bustle with people day and night. But there are rules now about burning incense because of the problems with air pollution, so there are only a few sticks in the burner at one time. The temples used to be dense with smoke so I am sure this must have been a hard rule for the Taiwanese to accept. Also, the food has changed. We ate simply in 1989 (I was a graduate student at the time), but we ate well. Most food was Taiwanese. KFC opened its first shop in Taipei in 1990, and it was a big deal. Now, it is easy to get just about any food you want, but I still went for a simple Taiwanese meal. And I think because I was eating breakfast at what would have been evening time if I were home in Austin, I ate several kinds of noodles, pickled bamboo, green salad, red peppers, steamed buns, radish sprouts, and peanuts every morning.

Entrepreneurial wheelchair user selling gift items in an outdoor market

But what has remained the same is the people. They are kind and generous and eager to learn. As a Lǎoshī (teacher), I was treated with respect by everyone, and people couldn’t thank me enough for sharing my expertise and knowledge with them. The year I lived there was one of the best years of my life, and that has not changed. Feeling appreciated and supported when you are 8,000 miles from home is significant. And for that I thank Emily, Jeannette, Catherine, Joy, Jennifer, Evelyn, Emily II, Allan, Marvin, and all the trainees. You made my heart full.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Where All Of Me Is Free

This week we are excited to hear from dancer Susie Angel with a poem about her experience in our Body Shift mixed-ability dance program:

"Where All Of Me Is Free"

In the norms of everyday life,
My arm movements are fast and uncontrollable.
Whenever I want to do something,
Plenty of thinking and planning must happen first.
Then, I pray I can accomplish the desired task without hitting anyone or anything.

My left arm is pretty cooperative
Until I need to do something that takes any fine gross motor control.
For example, I shake someone’s hand with the left,
But we play “Catch Me If You Can” before we can actually shake.

As for my right arm, I can’t trust it at all around other people, so I tuck it behind me.
I tell people not to blame me for what happens with it because it has a mind of its own,
Which is why it has affectionately become known as Maurice.
Loved ones are very much acquainted with his mischievous nature.
Some days he gets tired of being restrained
And squirms around or stiffens so much that I can't concentrate on anything.
Knowing my limits, he won't stop until I set him free.

However, when I enter a Body Shift dance class, workshop, or performance;
It's magical and I'm safe and totally transformed!
All dancers must remain aware of each other and their surroundings;
Leaving room for my arms to do whatever they want.
They offer counter-balancing and general support to fellow dancers
And move in ways that even surprise me.
Fellow dancers only react to them
Instead of judging them and making them conform to what is expected.

Too bad the whole world can’t be more like a big mixed-ability dance class.
If it was, it would be more inclusive of everyone and we could all live in peace.

Taken by PBS' KLRU: Tanya Winters (who uses crutches) and Susie Angel (who uses a wheelchair) preparing to stand with only each other for support.

Want to join Body Shift and experience the magic yourself? The all-level Elements dance improv class, held every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month from 2:30-4:30pm at Town Lake YMCA in Austin, is a great way to get involved. See you there!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

VSA Texas at Library Live!

This past weekend we held our second VSA Texas at Library Live concert featuring musicians with disabilities at Carver Branch Library. Although we had a smaller turnout than our first concert in January (I'm thinking the gas non-shortage may have played a part in that?), we still had quite a memorable show with different acts – some bordering on the experimental side. These included James Sandlin, who sang a number of folk songs with beautiful melodies and acoustic guitar, Nicole and Eric's Guide to a Meaningful Life, a synth- and theremin-based spoken word thought project featuring former OMOD project facilitator and poet Nicole Cortichiato along with yours truly, and the Heller Wade Experience, a spontaneous psychedelic noise duo featuring virtuosic keyboard player and creative force behind Foot Patrol, TJ Wade, and his lovely foil and self-proclaimed hippie, Anne Heller, who brought theremin, electric guitar, and tambourine to the party.

James Sandlin plays a song during our sound check Saturday.

Anne with tambourine and TJ on keys (note the analog theremin in the background!)

When I first spoke with Andrew Murphy about the possibility of organizing a one-off concert featuring musicians with disabilities at Austin Public Library (for more on the origins of this program that initially was not a program, check out my blog from January), I had no idea we would be invited to make this a quarterly concert series, and I was also not aware of the variety of future acts we might feature. That said, I'm thrilled to have organized another successful concert, and I look forward to meeting other musicians who can benefit from this opportunity to play their music in an accessible and supportive community venue. If you are a musician with a disability and want to perform at the library, please send me an email at eric@vsatx.org for an application.

If you were not able to attend our concert this past Saturday or back in January, worry not! The next show has already been scheduled for Saturday, December 9th, 2017, from 2:00-4:00 PM at Carver Branch Library, so mark your calendars! L&P open mic favorites Michael Tidmore & the Rollers, The Old Hats, and Wayne Napier will bring you tasty tunes of the country/Americana/folk variety. Stay tuned – you won't want to miss out!

And I almost forgot to mention: the videos from our first concert are ready for your viewing pleasure! Check out the highlights from our January 28th show on our YouTube channel. Thanks for reading and see y'all in December!