Friday, November 21, 2014

Part 1 of the Book Review Series by April Sullivan!

I love art and working with artists. But my second love is books. I spend a lot of my spare time reading. When I was a kid, my dad called me Little Miss Librarian. I even volunteered in the school library in the 5th grade. When I was in college I worked at a college library and later a bookstore. For several years I did volunteer book reviews for a website called Reader Views.

Me in a favorite reading spot!

So, I thought I would review two of the books currently on sale at our Holiday Art and Gift Show. Both books I read are by Edie Bakker of Kaufman, TX. Edie is a poet, journalist, and author. Her books are called Rendezvous with a Rainforest and Crocodile Set Free. Both are memoirs about a certain time in her life. Edie has lived a very interesting life and grew up in the rainforest in Papua New Guinea as a child of missionary parents.

Rendezvous with a Rainforest tells about the expedition trips she took to the Hunstein Mountain Rainforest with National Geographic. Her job was to chronicle the fate of the Wagu people as their rainforest is scheduled to be logged. Her book is well written and a great way to learn about a culture that most of us will not have the chance to see in person. She sets up the book with Chapter 1 – A Memory From Age Thirteen, with a vivid telling of her colorful life running barefoot through the jungle and playing in the lake. From there, the book is about her return to this beloved childhood village as an adult. Each chapter begins with a memory from her youth that cements her as a character who has a vested stake in this culture, but also as an outsider coming to learn and report. She must struggle with her dedication to her childhood village family and her responsibilities to National Geographic. I recommend this adventurous book!

Edie’s second book, Crocodile Set Free tells a different side of Edie’s life. Multiple sides in fact, as Edie is diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. She does a great job of sorting out her illness into chapters, even though as she explains, it is not in chronological order, but in order as she remembers it. This organization style could be hard to follow, but Edie is a skilled writer who brings us into her confusion and pain enough to make it understandable for someone who has not lived through such a thing, while also challenging the reader’s comfort zone.  I think with subject matter that includes religious distortions, fragmentation anxiety, and childhood trauma, it makes sense to not be an easy, palatable read. I find it very valuable to have writers in this world who are not afraid to share in this way, so that we all get a chance to try to understand another person’s world view.

I look forward to reading more books by Edie Bakker and hope that she continues to write them. We at VSA Texas are honored to have her work for sale in our Holiday Art and Gift show going on now. Come by and buy a book or two for the readers in your family. And keep reading our blog as I plan to review more books!

Friday, November 14, 2014

VSA Texas Annual Holiday Show!

Hello Folks!
With these recent cold temperatures, it's finally starting to feel like the holiday season, and here at VSA Texas, the start of the holiday season means only one thing- the beginning of our annual Holiday Art Show! We are so excited to have dozens of artists with disabilities across Texas feature and sell their work in the show, which opens this Monday, November 17th and lasts until December 24th here at VSA Texas (3710 Cedar Street).  You can stop by anytime Monday-Friday during regular business hours!

You'll be able to buy a variety of pieces, ranging from jewelry to paintings, cards to holiday ornaments. Proceeds from each sale go to both the artist and VSA Texas, with the artist receiving 70% and VSA Texas receiving 30% of each profit.  There's some really cool and original artwork in here! Some of my personal favorites include a crocheted "Angry Birds" hat, made by Shaniqua Esparza and modeled by our own April Sullivan (complete with an Angry Birds face). 

This candle is a repurposed tea box, beautifully handpainted by Marty Allen! 

Celeste Garvey-Petsch's, "Wilma The Water Dragon"

These handmade glass dishes by Jordana Gerlach are perfect for holiday candies or treats for Santa! 

This is a handmade ornament by Karen Thomas ... I'm sending this one home to my family in Boston!

So, come join us on November 20th from 6:00-8:00 PM for the Opening Reception here at 3710 Cedar Street in Austin. We're also hosting an Artist Reception on December 12th, from 6:00-8:00 again here at VSA Texas.  Stop by and support VSA Texas and artists with disabilities while you do all your holiday shopping! 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What Does Volunteering Mean to YOU?

Hey folks, today I'll be talking a little bit about the art and culture of volunteering.  I believe the first time I ever volunteered was when I was 16 and was asked to volunteer a few hours a day during the summer to enlighten 13 year olds in whatever topic I choose. I soon discovered that 13 year old kids were definitely up for a bigger challenge than I was prepared for, but I was willing to volunteer my time to bring them enlightened topics.  So I thought... and thought.  I was struggling every day until I remembered a film about discrimination, Nazis, terror and acceptance.  Bingo!  Showed the film and had lively discussions about what we had seen, drew art depicting some of the scenes and what we thought about life in general.  What a great feeling.

Anyway, later in life, I walked into Live Oak Theatre to see an old friend of mine’s show “Seekers of the Fleece” performed by Bobby Bridger.  The moment I walked into the theatre, I knew I was home.  I talked with the House Manager about volunteer opportunities. Fate was to offer me the life long chance to do props for Live Oak Theatre, Capitol City Playhouse, Zilker Hillside Summer Musical, & Zach Scott Theatre. Now, I just usher or do whatever I can to promote theatre in Austin.

What I have I learned by being a volunteer?  Volunteering should come from the desire to support the organization and it’s mission.  There are many reasons to volunteer:  to meet people, see shows for free, enjoy parties, attend ballets and operas.  These are all great perks, but my approach is to always support the mission of the organization that I volunteer.  Volunteering should mean gladly participating in the more undesirable tasks as well as the rewarding pleasurable ones.

Having been on both sides of the volunteering experience, as a volunteer and a volunteer coordinator, I know these valuable tools can make a wonderful volunteer experience:

1. Be Flexible!
I can recall a crazy instance when the caterers didn’t show up for an opening night show reception. Our volunteer coordinator had us setting up tables with table cloths, champagne glasses, and running over to a large grocery store to get cheeses, crackers, desserts, meats etc. and scurrying back and setting up everything with flowers, and cups and plates, napkins.  We were set up by the end of the show.  Everyone knew what had to happen and we did what it took.  Adapting and showing a happy face to all the patrons never letting on that all this was going on in the background.  We were so proud.

2. Energy
Sometimes you can be tired from work or other circumstances before you arrive for your volunteering assignment.  Remember that anyone coming to where you are volunteering has had outside events happening to them as well, and you may be the first person they see.  The goal of volunteering is to bring something to the experience.

3. Imagination and Creativity
Volunteering doesn’t need to be a solemn or straining thing.  When individuals use their talents, passions, and humor they bring life into the tasks at hand.  Allow yourself to dream; bring your
creativity into whatever you do because it leaves your own personal and sincere mark.

4. Integrity
Keeping your commitments, showing up when you say you will.  You represent the organization
you are volunteering with.  You are entrusted with their image, and the work they do as well as what you do with them.  This is keeping your word and doing what you say you will do.

5. Sacrifice/Selflessness
Volunteering again is giving of your time freely, bringing your time and energy to a cause, an organization because you want to.  I know that sometimes I have felt tired and worn thin because of maybe too many demands at times.  Examine your motives, the rewards or feelings you get at the end of the experience.  Sometimes it does mean sacrificing a bit especially when you are overwhelmed or under challenged.

I have given some tips on good volunteering, BUT on the flip side as a volunteer coordinator, I know that treating the volunteers well is so very important because it is their time, they are here to learn about your organization and what you all do.  Always try to engage them, and plan out their experience so they will want to return and find fulfillment in the mission.  After all, they came to you wanting to donate time as well as their talents to your organization.  Treat them well!