Thursday, October 18, 2018

Artist of the Year – Joan Fabian

Sunday, September 16th was a beautiful sunny afternoon in Austin, Texas as a group of artists and VSA Texas supporters gathered to celebrate artists from around Texas who have empowered themselves and their community through their artistic practice. It was our inaugural Haven Allen Artist of the Year awards where we honored three artists for their achievements.

The Haven Allen awards are named in memory of former VSA Texas Board Member Forrest Haven Street-Allen. Haven was an insightful and caring person who had a history of helping others. When she passed away we wanted to honor her dedication, vision, and respect for all through this award. Our first award ceremony this year was a success and I think Haven would be proud to have her name attached to it.

We solicited nomination forms all year long in 2017. The award is open to any artist with a disability over the age of 16 years old in any discipline. Self-nominations are allowed. We received 10 nominations. Interestingly, all were for visual artists and none were self-nominations. Our panel of judges reviewed all of the applications and they chose San Antonio artist Joan Fabian as the very first Haven Allen Artist of the Year. She was notified this past Spring and then awarded this Fall.

Joan has been a long time artist with VSA Texas. She has been in several group shows and was our final solo show at Access Gallery before it closed in 2012. I think she was a natural choice for this award because of her notable achievements through the arts nationwide and worldwide, her shining spirit and giving nature toward helping other artists succeed, and of course, her beautifully constructed and painted images.

The cover of the catalog produced for Joan’s solo show “Culture of Color” held at Access Gallery in May 2012.

As the 2018 Artist of the Year, we are dedicated to promoting Joan in the community, so this blog is my introduction of her to you. Meet Joan Fabian! If you don’t know her, you should! Below is a video of why she was nominated for and given this award:


In the generous VSA Texas fashion, we couldn’t just give one award! We also gave the Spark Award to fused glass artist Jordana Gerlach and the Director’s Commendation Award to Jackson Sutton. And before you ask, NO! You don’t have to have a name that starts with “J” to win this award.

Our 2019 Nomination Form is out now, so start thinking about the winning artists in your life. We want to see nominations for visual artists, writers, musicians, performers, and dancers! To request a nomination form, contact us at 512-454-9912 or info@vsatx.org. The deadline is February 28, 2019.

Friday, October 12, 2018

One Night in Miami

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Miami, Florida, land of Palm trees and beaches. I was there to work with docents and staff of the education department at the PĂ©rez Art Museum Miami on accessible customer service and audio description. This was my third time working with this museum and its staff, and as always, it was a great pleasure. And the museum setting is fabulous too! We were in the Board Room, with wrap-around windows that overlook a water runway… and seaplanes landed throughout the day, bouncing through the wakes their pontoons kicked up. We had a lively conversation concerning best practices for interacting with patrons with diverse abilities, and then spent some quality time in the galleries talking about verbal description for some of the artworks.

In the lobby, For Those in Peril on the Sea by the London-based artist Hew Locke, 70 model boats are suspended from the ceiling. They are diverse in size and color, painted in strong reds, greens, and yellows; some are covered with plastic plants and artificial flowers. They include Chinese junks, Norwegian cruise ships, Indonesian fishing boats, cigarette boats and clipper ships.

For the second year in a row, my trip to Miami coincided with a Miami-based arts and disability conference that I was able to attend as well. This year, Forward Motion, a Physically Integrated Dance Festival and Conference, organized by Karen Paterson & Dancers, was my special treat. Although I wasn’t able to stay for the entire festival, I was able to see several of the Candoco dancers and Karen Peterson dancers perform an intriguing score incorporating voice, echo, translation, and space. It is based on a structure practiced by the British company, Dog Kennel Hill. It was adapted by the dancers working together at Forward Motion for this conference. In addition to Candoco (London) and KPD (Miami), AXIS Dance Company (Oakland) and REVolutions Dance (Tampa) were also performing at the Festival.

The conference consisted of several thought-provoking panel discussions concerning topics of representation in the arts and media, moving beyond inclusion, and intersecting disability, sexuality, race, religion, ethnicity, and gender. Whoa: three very diverse and incredibly important panels discussing some meaty topics!

Some quotes that have stayed with me include:

“Diverse doesn’t mean inclusive.” So true. Many people still struggle with the concept of inclusion; what it means in context of disability.

“I am not educating people… But maybe I am because I am being seen. I know I have the power to be seen.” I have always believed that if you live your life, and let other people experience you living your life, education can happen.

“Inclusion means, I’m included but you’re not. Inclusivity means our stories are included, therefore our bodies are included too.” This one made me think.

And finally, this one is attributed to Annie Segarra, (artist, activist, YouTuber): “Inclusion is being invited to a party that is not equipped to have me there. Access is being invited to a party where I can make my own decision. Maybe I don’t want to dance, but I have the choice.”

All the panelists were very engaged and could have talked longer given the opportunity.

I ended my time in Miami wandering the Wynwood Walls, a neighborhood of warehouses that have been transformed by muralists. I discovered a poet, Jess, (@poemshop-js) who writes poetry on his manual typewriter outside one of the coffee shops. When asked to write a poem about One Night in Miami, he obliged:

The summer air blazes into 
  October, pausing 
a moment 
   to let the sun hide.

   The cotton candy clouds of 
    technicolor sunset 
now drift in simple notes 
       of stray slate 
  and dove gray. 

   We can breathe, 
finally. There is 
     opening and room, 

where the sauna and 
  red glow made us melt 
  inward at noon, 

    now we can stroll 
calm in the open 
    beneath the waning moon.

           The music of evening 
    calls the convocation, 
cars with made-up faces pass, 
swirling the dust of the street. 

Another night before 
             the weekend, in this city 
    where the ocean 
         and Everglades meet.

Jess Allen and his typewriter sit at the edge of the sidewalk, observed by two passers-by.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Namaste, y'all!

Well Namaste to you, oh loyal followers of this temple of contemporary wisdom, whose scrolls are being unraveled to be feasted upon by the fellow valiant and worthy.

Okay, I will not pretend to know what that means. It just sounded funny in my head. *Crickets* Yeah, let’s move on.

I’m Snehi Jhul, and I’m a millennial bard. I’m a musician, actor, and author who’s going back to college for a degree in geography. So, I basically toggle between plotting things and plotting things. (Ha! See what I did there? Huh? Huh? Ahem.) I started working at VSA Texas just two weeks ago, and boy, am I loving it! More on that in a minute.

Here's a photo of me (in case you wanted to put a face to the name).

I’m told I was born in India, but I don’t remember it happening. Is that normal? Anyways, I moved halfway across the world when I was one. I feel I was born as the epitome of mankind’s intelligence, and every skill I now realize I don’t have, I blame it on early childhood jet lag. So it’s quite handy.

I slay new dragons in my mind every day, and their being invisible is the only reason I haven’t been knighted yet. Those sneaky beasts. I always come out with a good story though, and whether I act or sing or write or dance or paint or play each day depends on which story I want to tell myself.

This is when VSA hired me as a work-study, battle-worn but back. On my first day, I made posters. Yep. I was getting paid for this! Then I helped out with one of our Library Live concerts this September, and got to meet some devilishly talented artists. I even got an autograph. (Thanks, Devin!) These people didn’t let disability own them. They owned it back. Booyah! (Wait, do people even say that anymore? Am I getting old?)

Devin Gutierrez performing for the Library Live crowd. He's a talented singer and piano player!

It’s so refreshing to work here, and I get to help out with a bunch of different things. In the first week, I learned how audio descriptions work, how captioning works, and most importantly, what the WiFi password here is. *Grins*

Want to hear about some of this fascinating stuff? Oh yeah, sure, imagination is great, but we can add another dimension to enjoy. I learned that VSA Texas provides audio descriptions at live plays, with descriptive narrations of the actions taking place on stage. You get an uber-cool gadget you tune in on and with an earpiece that makes you a better-looking James Bond, you get to follow along like a boss. I got to try it on when testing the equipment, and man I looked good! Oh, yeah, bring it on!

On top of that, I learn a lot about the world in the process, from voices mainstream society might not think to listen to. Everyone here has a drive to do some good in the world. Help us help you help the world!

Me? I’m personally in it for the stories. :D