Thursday, August 25, 2016

Why You Should Fund the Arts

Art is one of the most important things about being alive and yet, it remains a distant 4th place priority in most education systems. Not everyone is an artist, but then again not everyone is a scientist or mathematician.  The world would be a very boring place if we were all so well-rounded.

In my personal experience, I have found that art is something so intrinsic to my happiness and ability to express myself that imagining life without it seems impossible. I’ve been lucky enough to make a little money from my chosen form of expression - photography. One of the things I’ve learned since I started working at VSA Texas is that no matter what age, ability or income bracket you fall in, art is a viable career option.
Photo I took of my son at the beach in Costa Rica a few years ago
My son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was 3 years old. He did not start speaking clearly until he was 4, but ever since I can remember, he built things, he drew things, he sang, he danced. He did so many things to express himself before a full sentence came out of his mouth and I know that without art, he would have not been able to show me exactly who he was and what was on his mind.
Photo of bathtime art my son made when he was just learning to speak
Sadly, art hasn’t been a high priority in education for a long time. What if we spent as much time encouraging creativity as we did teaching students how to pass standardized tests? What if we allowed children to draw all over their homework, or better yet, draw the answers to their homework? The ‘what if’s’ could go on forever, but why not try focusing more on what we know works for students and make real change?

This is why it is so important to fund the arts. When you send a young person to one of our internships or camps, our dance class, our writing workshops, you are not giving someone the gift of passing their time. You are giving them the gift of an opportunity to do something that would have otherwise been impossible. You give them the gift of a new career path. You make art a priority.
Photo of my son and I at our house last year
At VSA Texas, our mission is to create an arts-inspired community that welcomes all abilities. Contributing to the creation of new artists will always be something worthwhile. 

To support the diverse, arts-inspired programming of VSA Texas, please click here to donate. Every little bit counts!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Creative Veterans Unite!

Coming up at the end of this month is an event celebrating our first exploration of adding Veteran Writers to our Distinguished Artist Veterans program. As those of you who have followed our veterans program knows, we have been hosting an annual exhibition of visual art every year since 2009. The exhibit is always a juried call for art, and brings us new and exciting artwork by veterans from all over the state of Texas. We have featured sculptures, paintings, drawings, jewelry, and so much more. But never writing until now! Our new project is called The Re-Integration Project and we started by hosting some writing classes for veterans in the Central Texas area. Over the course of two six-week long classes, a total of ten men and women learned about different writing styles including poetry, personal narrative, screenwriting, and fiction. The classes were taught by local writers Stephanie Whallon and Cecily Sailer. We also had an assistant from the Military Veteran Peer Network who helped us while also writing his own work. Below is a short excerpt from Gene Hooper’s story “S-13: A Day at Sea”

Nick wasn’t sure what was going on, but he knew that rumors onboard a ship travel fast. And he knew that if he wanted answers, he needed to move to his next watch station on the bridge. Maybe there is something to all of it, he thought, and he raced through the ship to the bridge.
When Nick entered the bridge, things were calm, so he reported to the officer of watch. Nick announced his presence with a strong deep tone. “Officer of the watch, Seaman Stone, reporting for duty. Permission to relieve the helmsman.” 
“Permission granted,” Lieutenant McDaniel responded. The deck watch was always uptight and very formal. Traditions, professionalism, and commutations were key components to keeping a ship out of harm’s way out at sea.
Nick took his place at the helm. The bridge was too quiet, the kind of quiet that speaks loudly. He felt as though everyone knew something but was afraid to tell him. He wasn’t sure what the hell was going on, but he already didn’t like it.

Gene Hooper writes fiction informed by his experiences as a veteran and his naval expertise. “S-13” is his first story, which sheds light on some of his core values. Being new to writing, Gene has spent time with great educators through VSA Texas’ veteran writing projects and learned new writing skills. He will continue writing and building his skill set. Gene also works with veterans with PTSD. He believes in the healing power of writing, and believes it can provide encouragement. Gene’s full story can be found in the chapbook that is being printed for the reading and art exhibit coming up on August 31st. We are partnering with the Aural Literature program of the Austin Public Library and featuring a reading of literary works by our veteran writers as well as displaying artwork by veteran artists from all over the state in our 7th Annual Distinguished Artist Veterans exhibit.
© 2016 Alec Carvalho, Wave in Birch, carved wood, 12” x 12”
We will have work on exhibit by 11 artists from all across the state including Laredo, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. We asked the artists to relate their work to a theme that corresponded to the writings we received. For example, Alec’s piece Wave in Birch relates to the theme of Ownership of Experience and Life Choices.

Another artist who relates to that theme of Ownership of Experience is Ruth McIntosh. Ruth combined art and writing in her entry by framing a poem that is embedded into handmade paper created from the pulp of her old military uniforms. Her piece is called PTSD and she noticed something interesting about her finished work:

“I randomly tore the edges of the paper on which the poem is printed, however, unknowingly I created the outline of a face. The lines of the printing also just happened to suggest a face. This is amazing since the last two lines of the poem are, 'PTSD has many faces. One of them is mine.' It is as if I subconsciously made a self portrait.”
© 2015 Ruth L. McIntosh, PTSD,
Handmade paper and inkjet printing on paper, 16” x 20”
We invite you to see and hear from these veterans at our Re-Integration Project Reading and Opening Reception on Wednesday, August 31, 2016 from 7:00-8:30 PM at the Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez Street, Austin, TX 78702!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference in Pittsburgh August 2016

Hi there. This is Silva reporting from Pittsburgh. There is something so special about being in the same place and space with people who share your passion, your struggles, and who know what you mean when you talk about breakthroughs in your work. That’s how I felt at the Intersections Conference.
This image, jumbled words arts education emblazoned with the words
VSA Texas wearing sunglasses, was created by Celia Hughes
using at the “Cool Tools, Hot Topics”
workshop at Intersections 2016.
Krissie Marty from Forklift Danceworks and I got to present “Learning in Motion,” a workshop on creative movement strategies that employs the elements of dance in alignment with National Core Arts Standards. We had a room full of people who were eager to hear what we had to offer and as eager to contribute from their personal experiences. We had so much fun presenting to the group that I forgot almost instantly how nervous I was. I feel like we also got lucky as we were presenting on the first day at the first time slot so I got to enjoy other people’s workshops for the rest of the conference.
Krissie and participants in build-a-phrase action!
One of my favorite workshops was led by a Wolf Trap Institute For Early Learning Through The Arts teaching artist, in collaboration with two special education classroom teachers. They were presenting material that they have been working on for two years and in which they have combined books with music and movement. I love it when I go to a session and know that I can use the material in my work immediately. It is like filling your toolbox with brand new shining tools. Here is their website so that you can check them out:
Valerie from the Wolf Trap Institute demonstrating her boat and sailor!
Next year the VSA Intersections Conference will be in Austin, Texas – my hometown now – so keep your eyes open for the dates and make sure to come and share your work and meet other professionals in the field.
In this photo, Sharron Rush of Knowbility, plays with floating silver mylar pillows
in the Andy Warhol Museum at the opening reception.
For more information about how you can get involved with Intersections 2017 in Austin, Texas contact

Thursday, August 4, 2016

VSA Texas Unsung Heroes of the Week: Gene and Dave

This week we have the privilege of introducing our dear friend, Gene Rodgers, to tell us the history of The Gene and Dave Show in his own words:

Have you ever wanted your own television show? Have you ever wanted to be your own producer, writer, director, and on-screen talent? These are questions that never occurred to Gene and Dave when they were involved in performance arts. They just wanted to share their creative talents with as many people as possible. Well, look at us now!
Gene and Dave with an image of the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue,
Town Lake, and the Austin skyline digitally placed behind them
Dave and I, both electric wheelchair users, were involved in VSA Texas-sponsored live performance group called Actual Lives Austin. We wrote stories about events in our lives and then shared the stories on stage. One day during rehearsal, Dave approached me and said, "Hey Gene, I’ve got an idea for a script, and you’re the only one I know crazy enough to do it with me." Well, I was all ears. We immediately wrote the script for a skit called ‘Who Works Monday.’ I had a friend film us. I edited the video on my computer, and we posted it on YouTube. It was about a guy who hired several attendants and had trouble keeping track of who worked on which day. It was a parody of Abbott and Costello’s ‘Who’s On First.’ See it at

A lot of folks told us they really enjoyed it and that we should have our own TV Show. That was all the encouragement we needed. Just several years previous, I became a certified producer at public access Channel Austin. My show was called "Geno’s Place." I just had to go to the public access studio, learn how to operate a camera, and learn how to get that media edited and back to the station for broadcast. Well, it was a little more complicated than that, but in essence I was already a producer.  Dave and I just needed to come up with a show theme and start putting shows together.

Our TV show had pretty humble beginnings. Celia Hughes, at VSA Texas, helped us find funding. We set up some lights in my apartment and filmed ourselves in my living room. Then we started using a green screen, which allowed us to digitally change the background of our set. Once Channel Austin remodeled their studios, we started to film there. Since we were able to use our own digital cameras and edit our shows on our computers, we created shows in a fairly accessible venue.
Gene and Dave seated at a table with 2 microphones
in the Channel Austin studio. Behind them a blue screen
covers the entire wall.

The editing station at Channel Austin shows the process of
digitally placing an Austin postcard behind Gene and Dave.
Being co-hosts of The Gene and Dave Show has allowed us to meet all sorts of people in all sorts of situations. We can always be seen at SXSW. In fact, Dave interviewed R2D2 there. We get to interview folks at public and private businesses to learn more about how they include people with disabilities in their activities. Our show covers many disability-related topics, including employment, recreation, health, and many more. We can be seen on Time-Warner channel 16. All shows are archived on our website at

Gene and Dave sit on either of R2D2 as Dave, microphone
in hand, conducts the interview.
Contact us at and