Thursday, September 20, 2018

Encouraging Artistic Entrepreneurship

Earlier this month VSA Texas was invited to present at the Houston Arts Partners Conference. The Houston Arts Partners collaboration was created in response to a specific request from Houston area education administrators for a more efficient and effective method to access arts educational resources in Houston. The 2018 Conference was called "Synergy" and all about highlighting arts partnerships for students with diverse learning needs. Well this sounded right up our alley! So we put together a panel presentation called "Encouraging Artistic Entrepreneurship: How Artists with Disabilities Navigate Today's Gig Economy."

Our panel consisted of four young Houston artists. First, Wes Holloway. We have known him for quite some time at VSA Texas. We met when he was attending UT Austin. Wes paints amazing realistic pieces and is currently focusing on smaller collage work. He is a teaching artist and volunteers for United Spinal Association.

The next artist on our panel was Grant Manier. We met Grant when he was just a teenager starting out on his journey of art. He does eco-art using recycled paper. His most recent endeavor is a book he wrote with his mom called "Grant the Jigsaw Giraffe."

We then had Alisha Momin. Alisha was a participant in our Opening Minds, Opening Doors program when we took that to Houston. She creates jewelry, scarves, and potpourri as well. Alisha is an outgoing and adventurous young woman who enjoys making art and especially enjoys the part where she can meet people as she tries to sell it.

And finally Megan Fry, a young woman with whom we recently became acquainted. She uses an interesting technique called eye gaze to create digital art. She is also a college student at University of Houston. This was the first event we have done with Megan and she was delightful.

Grant, Alisha, April, Wes, and Megan at the HAP Conference after their presentation

At the conference, we had an hour long discussion about working as an artist with a disability. I don't have room in this blog to tell you everything, but here are some highlights!

  • Most of our panelists were interested in art from a young age. Their advice to teachers: let your students with disabilities give it a try. Don't assume they can't do what everyone else is doing. Find ways to adapt and ask them how they want to adapt the lesson. Be ready to explore with them!
  • Making the art is what comes naturally! But what about showing and selling your work? You might need a manager. And in many cases that is a "Mom-ager" or a "Dad-ager." They can be very helpful on the business skills, the transportation, and always the cheerleading!
  • Working as an artist at home can have its challenges. Sometimes you need to get out of the isolation of working at home. Get out and see the world for inspiration as well as networking opportunities.
  • Pricing your work is not easy. One tip is to start with a base price based on size. But whatever you do, never underestimate your worth!


I always enjoy an event where I can show off the talents of VSA Texas artists. Each artist did a great job talking about their work and were very professional panelists. We had a great time at the 2018 HAP Conference!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

September Fun with VSA Texas

Hey folks! This is Eric here to tell you about all we have going on over the next few weeks, and we hope you can join us and participate in one or more of these exciting events!

Let's start with this weekend. This Saturday evening, September 15th from 7:00-9:00 PM we have our monthly Lion and Pirate Open Mic for writers, musicians, and other performers that we co-host with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities at Malvern Books (613 West 29th Street, Austin, TX 78705). It's a really fun community event with a very supportive, open, and encouraging vibe, and it's free! So if you haven't been, I strongly encourage you to attend and perform, read, sing, or share whatever talents you possess, or simply relax and enjoy the entertainment! Not only is it a fun time with performances you are sure to remember, it's also a lovely community of friends who bond over performances and common interests.

Then Sunday, September 16th from 2:00-4:00 PM in the afternoon we will present our first-ever Artist of the Year Awards at the swanky Sterling Event Center (6134 US 290 East Frontage Road, Austin, TX 78752)! This award ceremony was launched to recognize the many fantastic artists with disabilities who create art and live in the state of Texas. We will have delicious hors d'oeuvres, beverages, live music from acoustic musician and troubadour Wayne Napier, and other fun activities, and Ron Lucey, the current Executive Director of the Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities, will serve as our emcee! And did I mention it's also free?! I would tell you more about this year's award recipients, but I'm sure the artists themselves and the art they will have on display will do a much better job Sunday. Okay, okay… Here's a preview of the art, but you still need to attend the ceremony to meet the talented artists behind the artwork!

Intricate, layered abstract painting mounted on wood with a myriad of vibrant colors

Painting of a safari scene with lion, tourist, and parrot

Beautiful blue fused glass pendants

The fun will continue next Saturday, September 22nd from 2:00-4:00 PM with the latest installment of our quarterly concert series at Carver Branch Library (1161 Angelina Street, Austin, TX 78702)! This time we are excited to welcome two new comers to the Carver Branch stage: Devin Gutierrez, a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter whose greatest influences are Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Chicago; and Sean & Tristan who cover hits of 50s rock 'n' roll legends Chuck Berry, The Penguins, Elvis, Ben E King, Bill Haley, Frank Sinatra, and others. As with all of this month's events, it is free. The doors will open at 1:45 PM, and the show will start at 2:00 PM.

Then, last but not least, Saturday, September 29th from 1:00-3:00 PM our local chapter of Opening Minds, Opening Doors (OMOD) speakers dubbed the ‘Speaking Advocates’ will tackle the timely topic of disability in the media with speeches, lively discussion, and a whole lot to think about! As usual, we will meet in Room 101 of the AGE of Central Texas Building (3710 Cedar Street, Austin, TX 78705). All are welcome! Please just send me an email at eric@vsatx.org if you plan to attend.

So come out, get creative, and celebrate art with us!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Another Year of Judging Films By and About People with Disabilities!

Five years ago, I was asked by the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities (CTD) to be a judge for the documentary short category of their annual Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival. This international film festival is unique for a number of reasons, first and foremost because all films submitted and screened either feature characters or real people with disabilities, or explore disability issues, and in keeping with that mission, many of the films include people with disabilities in their cast and crew. From the judging perspective, what sets the festival apart is its insistence to judge each film almost entirely on how well it presents a fresh or creative look at the experience of living with a disability; at times this means that a film with a high production value may not clinch first place if it relies heavily on tired disability stereotypes. As someone with a background in the film industry, this placed me in a unique position, one that has taught me a great deal over the past five years.

What I have learned is there are many ways to approach the criteria given me and just as many viewpoints. It is up to us as judges to adhere to that criteria but also our responsibility to judge the art of the storytelling and remember that "art takes risks." For Cinema Touching Disability, a memorable work is one that simultaneously embodies artistry, technical competence, and content that advances disability culture. Whereas some competitions want to encourage and empower emerging filmmakers to generate innovative films, Cinema Touching Disability seeks films at the cutting edge of social, cultural, and personal perceptions about experiences with disability. These films encapsulate just about everything: romance, relationships with peers or animals, nature, adventure, or just everyday experiences; some may contain a sense of humor, drama, or even action and suspense.

When viewing films outside of this competition, I find myself asking if we should judge films solely on their technical qualities (sound, editing, cinematography, etc.), or should we also allow for the effort put into accurately portraying or including underrepresented communities, like people with disabilities? The story may not be well-developed, and some of these filmmakers may not have much experience, but don't all filmmakers start out that way – with no experience, but just an idea? That is not to say the quality of the execution of their ideas is not important, as that is often what engages the audience in the first place, but film technique is certainly not all that matters.

The video below offers a more in-depth view of what the Cinema Touching Disability event means for the Austin community:


The Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival is now in its 15th year here in Austin, Texas. Each year, the films get better, and we see more international submissions, which gives us a glimpse into how other countries view the filmmaking process and how different cultures perceive what folks with disabilities want to and can achieve. You can learn more about the Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival and find updates for future events here. The 2018 festival will be held at the Alamo Drafthouse Village in Austin October 19-20. See you there!