Thursday, December 28, 2017

What We Learned in 2017

The transition from one year to the next is an opportunity to look to the future, to set new goals and make resolutions for what we hope to accomplish or change in the New Year. It is also a time when we can reflect on the past year and ponder the lessons we learned. Here are three OMOD speakers on what they learned in 2017:

Kamand Alaghehband

I’ve learned to be grateful for what I have. There were so many disasters this year like Hurricane Harvey and people lost everything they had. I volunteered to help people in the shelter, then I realized how blessed I am with everything I have in my life. This was the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this year. Also, helping other people made me feel better about myself. It made me feel I am a better me to be able to help other people in need.

Houstonians evacuating via boats or wading through waist-high water

Nicole Cortichiato

You can find forks in the road everywhere— practically everywhere you look—your food, where you go, how you react. Last night I found a fork in the road of my scalp. I ended up parting my own seas—taking the road less traveled. I guess that's just the artist in me. Forks—such a scary utensil.

Eric Clow

I don’t know if this has more to do with 2017 or turning 30, but this year I grappled considerably with what it means to be an artist – at least on a personal level – and even more with what it means to be an artist with a disability that renders the eight-hour work day impossible. Lessons I learned through this struggle include seeing my art for the work that it is, trusting in the creative process and ignoring my inner critic long enough to complete a rough draft, accepting that some pieces may take months, even years, to finish, recognizing when I use my disability as a rationalization to avoid work and instead modifying each task so I can work without damaging my muscles, and going to work whether or not I feel inspired. Though much of the art may be mediocre, I continue with the hope a few gems will emerge; but if that never happens, I can still find satisfaction knowing I did (and do) what I love. More importantly, 2017 also delivered me an adorable Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Mac the Boo Bear who has brought immeasurable joy, love, and laughter into my life.

Mac accompanies me on a patient lift ride to my wheelchair.

What did you learn in 2017? Share with us in the comments!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Tour of the Holiday Show 2017

Have you been over to VSA Texas lately? Our boring old classroom has been transformed into a Unique Boutique for our 9th annual Holiday Art and Gift Show. And it looks great!

You need to come by in person to really see the details and quality in the artwork and handmade items we have for sale. But for now, here is a video tour of some highlights of the show:

The artwork in this room was created by 45 artists with disabilities from the state of Texas. So far we have sold about $3,000 worth of art and we wrote checks to 13 artists to help them support their goals as working artists. But we want to make more sales and write more checks. So please come by and support Texas artists, support the good work of VSA Texas, and support buying handmade for the holidays!

We are hosting an artist reception this Saturday, December 16th from 1-4 pm. Please come out and meet the artists, hear live music, and nibble on treats. Or visit us any day Monday-Saturday 10-4 all the way up to December 23rd. We are in Room 101 in the AGE of Central Texas Building and can be easily found if you direct yourself to 3707 Home Lane, Austin, TX 78705 and look for the signs.

Happy Holidays from the VSA Texas family!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Ten Thousand Villages Holiday Benefit

I believe it’s been over 12 years since I got a notification from the volunteer coordinator of SXSW Film Festival calling for volunteers for Ten Thousand Villages of Austin, a fair trade retail nonprofit store. I looked up their website and read a bit about their history and what Fair Trade means.

“Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.
“It highlights the need for change in the rules and practice of conventional trade and shows how a successful business can also put people first. It is a tangible contribution to the fight against poverty, climate change and economic crisis.” 
—World Fair Trade Organization

I was so impressed with their mission, I signed up and got trained as a volunteer and have been volunteering with this organization ever since. I have gotten to meet some of the artisans on their U.S. tours and have learned so much about their families and villages and their workers. There are actually over 160 Ten Thousand Villages in the U.S. and over 40 in Canada, all based on the same model of fair trade. I have met wonderful folks from Niger and Pakistan.

In addition to their mission, Ten Thousand Villages of Austin also supports local nonprofits throughout the year by designating a specific benefit night where 10-15% of sales are donated to a specific nonprofit. VSA Texas has participated in this event for over 5 years. Gradually we have developed a loyal following of those who not only love VSA Texas and our mission but love the mission of Ten Thousand Villages as well.

This year’s VSA Texas benefit night will be at the fairly new location of Ten Thousand Villages on 4803 Burnet Road, with plenty of accessible parking in front and more parking behind the building. Come shop with us, get to know VSA Texas a little better as well as the wonderful folks at Ten Thousand Villages. Remember to come in the store between 5:00-8:00 PM on Monday, December 11th, and I guarantee you will find that special, one-of-a-kind ornament or gift, complete with the story behind each item you purchase. Over 38 developing countries are represented in the store.

Also, as a special treat, Rick Perkins & Friends will be there to perform original tunes and share stories with his songwriter pals.

Rick Perkins singing and playing acoustic guitar at Roots

Please visit Ten Thousand Villages YouTube Channel to see what all they offer. And visit our VSA Texas YouTube Channel to see what we are about. And come join us Monday, December 11th, from 5:00-8:00 PM for a blending of two wonderful missions aimed at giving artists our support to encourage growth and sustainability for themselves and their families.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Support Giving Voice – Buy a Poster!

We are excited to have just wrapped up our second year of Giving Voice, a great new program partnering with AIGA Austin. As I’ve mentioned before in blogging about this program, it’s like VSA Texas and AIGA Austin were made for each other. AIGA is a community of design advocates bringing together practitioners, enthusiasts, and patrons to amplify the voice of design and create the vision for a collective future. And who better to amplify their voice and create a collective vision than young adults with disabilities! We matched up 11 youth with 11 professional graphic designers in Fall 2017 and these creative duos each made a poster about a social cause.

Marielle and Denise’s poster about voting

How did we match up these pairs? We gave them each a survey to fill out and then put them together based on personality and interests. It wasn't easy, but we seemed to get it right and had some great matches.

Alex and Clarissa became great friends during their short time together.

Next, our design teams met only 4 times for an hour and a half each meeting. That’s not a lot of time together! But the results were amazing.

Edith and Quinn working together on their poster

Cade and Evan working on their poster

With help from our partners at AIGA we were able to secure some donations to make this program a big success. First, One Touch Point donated the poster printing. Next, Big Medium awarded us a scholarship to be an official participant in the East Austin Studio Tour when we exhibited the posters at the Terrazas Branch Library. And finally, Trader Joe’s and AIGA chipped in for food and drinks at the reception.

Rey and Juan Carlos in front of their poster at the exhibition

Kim and Kamand at the reception

Our posters are still on view at the library and will be through the end of December. We hosted an online silent auction and some of the posters sold. But not all of them! So if you are interested in a poster, you can donate $20 or more to the program and pick up one of the available works of art. Contact me at for more details. You can see the posters here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

An OMOD Thanksgiving

At VSA Texas we typically use our Thanksgiving week blog as an opportunity for the staff to share what we are most thankful for in our lives. It's a time when we get to give you, our readers, a glimpse into who we are, both at work and beyond. This year we have decided to instead turn the spotlight on four of our OMOD speakers, so they can share a part of who they are. In reading these stories, we are heartened to see that no two families celebrate Thanksgiving quite the same way, and that in such a culturally diverse nation we can still find common ground in celebrating life, family, and friends at the dinner table. Enjoy!

My Puerto Rican Thanksgiving
by Marielle Abrams

For Thanksgiving, sometimes I travel to Killeen, Texas to spend time with the Puerto Rican side of my family.

A Puerto Rican Thanksgiving is very entertaining and fast paced. When you arrive at my uncle’s house, everyone rushes to great you, they scream with joy and kiss you and hug you. They all start talking at the same time, so when we get together there are only two volumes: loud and louder. Everyone is going from English to Spanish, back and forth, at lightning speed. So, it is a bit of a juggling act to follow the conversation and things can get a bit confusing. Not only that, but the TV is always on either showing football or a Spanish “telenovela” for Grandma. Even the TV switches languages on you when you least expect it.

For the meal, we have a mixture of dishes from different cultures. There is the traditional turkey but also Puerto-Rican style roasted pork, potatoes and rice (arroz con gandules), a ton of sides and even some Mexican dishes because my uncle is married to a Mexican lady who cooks heavenly. So, for this type of meal you need a stomach for your stomach.

This kind of Thanksgiving is not for the faint of heart or a weak stomach, but it is a ton of fun.

Mexican Thanksgiving
by Renee Lopez

Growing up as a 2nd generation Mexican-American, I was fortunate to experience the lives of my Mexican grandparents. Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Mexico. My grandparents, however, assimilated into the holiday, but with a twist. We had the traditional turkey and dressing, but the dressing my Mexican grandmother made had intense flavors! Comino, sabio, cilantro, ajo, cebolla, green bell peppers... OMG, it was delicious! Because our family was so large, my grandmother made a vat of dressing. It took two people to carry it in from the car. We had two turkeys, the traditional mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce (out of the can with the ridges still on it). We never ate it because we weren't sure what to do with it, but my mother insisted on it being part of the menu because "it's supposed to be there." But no Thanksgiving would be complete in our house without beans, rice, and tortillas as side dishes. And to even consider eating any meal without salsa was unthinkable! Yep, there they were at the table placed in honor like ancient family members.

Our Mexican Thanksgiving meal did not seem odd to us. We didn't know about the green bean casserole, sweet potatoes and actual homemade cranberry sauce. We also didn't know about leftovers. In fact when I heard kids at school talk about making leftover turkey salad sandwiches, I was like "really?"

My grandparents and parents have all passed on. The new generation now buys everything already made, boxed or ordered. Beans, rice, and tortillas are no longer on the table. Thanksgiving, like everything today, is a rushed, thrown together meal. Most of it is bland, just like the holidays are to me now... but I remain, as always, grateful for the culinary experience of the blending of two cultures, joining together at one table, as it should be.

The Lopez Family gathered round the table at Thanksgiving

by Nissi Salazar

Thanksgiving in our family usually consists of my grandmother yelling at one of her children not to drop the turkey, people yelling "CAN WE PLEASE EAT!" And LOTS of people! I often spend most of my day at my house spending time with my twin sister, while she bakes one of my favorite dishes of all time, Shepherd’s Pie. My excitement to eat Shepherd’s Pie is unparalleled. Unfortunately, I dislike turkey so Thanksgiving isn't exactly my favorite holiday.

But I do love how my family gets together! I love how my cousins and I interact and how they don't treat me like the person with the disability! For example: my cousin Diego, I would have to say he is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world. Why, you may ask? It's because he calls me ugly and when I ask him to do something for me, he doesn't do it. He usually just says, "get it yourself" or whines about it the entire time. Now, you might find this incredibly mean and insensitive but to me it is how I know he loves me. On many occasions Diego has been the first one to my defense so I know he doesn't tease me because he's trying to be mean; he does it because he knows how much I do not like being treated like someone with the plague.

So, even though turkey is not my favorite I still have an amazing opportunity to spend time with friends and family. That’s what the holiday is really about, right?



Pumpkin Pie
by Dave Chapple

When I was little I watched my mom cook and when I moved out I was able to tell my attendants how I like my food cooked. Like all good cooks I like to experiment and I wanted to try making pumpkin pies from a real pumpkin. My first attempt the pies tasted delicious. A few years passed, and  I got new attendants. One of my new attendants agreed to help me try making pies again for my family’s Thanksgiving get together. But, this time it didn’t go that smoothly.

My first mistake was getting a bigger pumpkin, and it was harder so it took longer to cut up and boil to get it to the right consistency. We had pumpkin leftover and we didn’t know what to do with it. So my attendant decided to put it down the garbage disposal, and that was the second mistake. The pumpkin clogged the disposal and instead of going down the pumpkin went up and got everywhere! It was like a pumpkin bomb went off.

After all that I am glad to say the pies turned out awesome and everybody loved them. But sadly I haven’t made a pumpkin pie since.

The Chapple Family gathered in front of the fireplace

What are some of your fond Thanksgiving memories and family traditions? Share them with us in the comments!

Friday, November 17, 2017

On Display

(All photos taken by Camille Wheeler at last year's On Display at the Blanton Museum of Art)

Join Body Shift and a cast of local dancers, actors, and activists of diverse ages, abilities and backgrounds as we present Heidi Latsky's ON DISPLAY at the Blanton Museum of Art on December 3rd from 1-3:30pm.

ON DISPLAY is meant to be viewed as an art installation so you may come and go as you please during the performance time. The event is included with the cost of admission to the museum (Free for members and UT faculty/students; $9 for adults; $7 for seniors; $5 for youth; Free for children 12 years and younger; Free for active military).

Dancers of mixed abilities dressed in white form a variety of human sculptures

ON DISPLAY is a deconstructed art exhibit/fashion show and commentary on the body as spectacle and society's obsession with body image. It turns a cast of diverse and extreme bodies into a sculpture court where the performers are the sculptures. ON DISPLAY began as a simple human sculpture court and is now a movement, a growing portfolio of works that explore and demonstrate inclusion through art.

We’ve always been taught not to stare; not to look at someone deeply because it might offend them; that if someone “different” catches our eye we have objectified them. This is the life of the viewer. Alternatively, should we possess a birthmark, a glorious height, or unknown disability we risk being too noticeable and often ostracized or worse. This is the life of the viewed.

In both lives there is a harsh limitation where one does not have the time to see beyond mere characteristics and the other cannot be seen as anything but other. How can we possibly create a safer space for both to really look?

An empty wheelchair sits in the foreground with dancers forming sculptures behind

Click here to read Tanya Winters' response to her experience as a dancer with a disability taking part in On Display on the Pflueger Pedestrian Bridge and at the Blanton Museum last year.

ON DISPLAY Austin is the local platform of an annual worldwide initiative ON DISPLAY Global that evolved out of Heidi Latsky Dance’s partnership with the NYC Mayor’s Office and the UN in celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

A dancer leans against a wall while a second dancer using a wheelchair forms a different sculpture behind

Friday, November 10, 2017

Behind the Scenes at the Holiday Art Show

I know, I know, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet and all the holiday bazaars are opening their doors to entice all the early holiday shoppers. Well not to be outdone, we have a unique opportunity for our “Unique Boutique” to support artists with disabilities and VSA Texas at the same time.

We started this tradition nine years ago at our ACCESS Gallery on 34th Street off Guadalupe. After closing the gallery, we moved our little bazaar to the AGE Building where our offices are located. We took the opportunity to transform our large classroom (Room 101) into a holiday bazaar filled with lights, music, arts and crafts of all kinds, and delicious holiday smells. We have knitted dresses, jewelry, braille cards, paintings, wood carved clocks, the cutest little spoons with designer spoon handles, glassware, and so much more. Artists get 70% of the sale price and VSA Texas gets 30%.

Here's a glimpse of just what it takes to produce this thing:

1. Before we even receive the art, we alert the media and begin to promote the show on social media.
2. We send out a statewide call for art.
3. Our Artworks Director and Executive Director review submissions and determine which pieces will work best in the show.
4. Selected pieces make their way here through the mail or hand delivery and down the hall to Room 101 where everything gets categorized and unpacked.

April hauls empty cardboard boxes out of Room 101.

5. We print the artist statements to be hung in Room 101.
6. Linens get steamed, panels go up, tables pulled out, shelves painted, lights strung (BLING).

Bright overhead lights shine on the art in Room 101.

7. Showcases for jewelry and glassware are lit up (more BLING).
8. We hang the art, and everything gets put in its alluring place.
9. Pizza figures into the weeks of set-up.

Pizza pie!

...and the box it came in

10. Signage arrives for the outside of the AGE Building.
11. The banner is printed (after finding out the file isn't right and having to rush the order, but it gets done, sigh).
12. Posters and postcards arrive (poster may have a problem, but it gets resolved, another sigh).
13. Signage assembled and ready to post outside
14. Lights strung around our stellar new banner at the entrance to the show
15. The opening reception is around the corner: food ordered, people invited, hair pulled, “where is that battery for our lights???”

Whew! And that doesn't even cover it. After several months of preparation and promotion, we finally open the show, and it’s MAGIC. We have over 70 original pieces on display with multiple replacements, so we are really looking at hundreds of items ready to be sold.

“Cat” painting by Allison Merriweather

Fused glass tray made by Jordana Gerlach

Be sure to join us for our Preview Party Monday, November 13th, from 6:00-8:00 PM in Room 101 of the AGE of Central Texas Building off 38th Street, east of Guadalupe. Look for the signs! Direct yourself to 3707 Home Lane for the most convenient entrance. All doors are locked for this secret event, but phone numbers will be posted so that we can let you in. RSVP and invite your friends to our Facebook event page here.

AND REMEMBER THE MOST IMPORTANT PART: This is an opportunity for these artists to showcase their talent, be recognized, and sell their art! Every year I have a favorite piece, and this year it's a wonderful Flamenco Dancer (below), but I also like the fused glass wind chimes. Hmmm...

“Flamenco Dancers at Fiesta” by Miguel Vasquez

Fused glass wind chimes made by Sue Lloyd-Ducette

Thursday, November 2, 2017

VSA Texas Unsung Hero of the Week: Victor Gallo

The VSA Texas family learned of the passing of a good friend and creative soul this week. We were saddened to hear that Victor Gallo is no longer with us. He was a wonderful young man who has been involved with our programs since 2011. Victor was a student in our first New Media Arts Summer Camp where he learned about arts and technology – two things Victor was very interested in.

Victor and the NMA Crew doing a photo shoot with a cool old car

A volunteer, Victor, and Michael wearing their Apple T-Shirts after a visit to the Apple Store

Victor returned in Summer 2012 to our Music Camp. This time he was a volunteer helping others learn techniques in digital recording and sound. The three photos below show Victor working with Jourdan on recording a song during that camp:

Victor loved music! It was something he was passionate about. He created eerie and beautiful music on his keyboard, some of which you can hear on his website here. He also loved to dance and once proposed hosting a dance party at VSA Texas. He was a regular at our original Open Mic at Access Gallery in 2012 and often showed us his short films when it was his turn. He even debuted his short film “No More Nukes” at our Disability From Real to Reel Film Festival in 2012. Victor was always fun to be around. We will miss his presence greatly!

Victor playing a kettle drum

Victor drumming while Krisha plays harmonica at the Open Mic

Friday, October 27, 2017

VSA Texas Unsung Hero of the Week: Silva Laukkanen

Photo of Silva

Today’s unsung hero is a woman who is very dear to my heart. Silva Laukkanen arrived in Austin in 2009 and immediately made her home in the Body Shift community. She has been a tireless advocate for inclusive community dance ever since. As she prepares to leave Austin to pursue a new adventure in Albuquerque, I am reminded of all the laughter and all the tears we have shared. Life in Austin won’t be the same without her, but life in Albuquerque is about to get a whole lot sweeter.

Why do I think Silva is an unsung hero? Well, for one reason, she never says no to any idea. It has always been “Yes, and…” with Silva. Although she will be the first to tell you that this habit has not always been easy, she bounces back and always says “Yes!” to the next opportunity. She has an opinion on just about everything and is not shy in letting you know it. However, she rarely takes credit for all that she has done and the lives that she has touched, and so today I want to acknowledge her for all that she is and all that she has done for me and VSA Texas.

Taking photos during Bridging the Gap rehearsal on Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge

Without her ‘can do’ attitude, we would not have our wonderful movement class at Rosedale School. We would not have had our marvelous experience with Stephen Koplowitz at Sparky Park. We would not have joined Heidi Latsky in her global On Display annual recognition of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Our work with Nina Martin would not have the richness that it has developed. We would not have had our boundaries stretched by working with Gerda König and Mahesh. And her tireless advocacy, along with strong support from Olivia O’Hare, brought Alito Alessi to Austin; changing the way we look at inclusive dance and significantly influencing how we teach our Elements classes. She has touched the lives of incarcerated women, disabled veterans, pre-kindergarten and elementary school children needing love and support, mothers and daughters, teachers, college students both with and without disabilities, dancers of all abilities, and the VSA family of individuals with diverse abilities.

Silva, Celia and Olivia, the dynamic trio, planning another choreographer residency

Managing a career, while co-raising three children under the age of 9 with her husband Charles, has provided Silva an opportunity to lose sleep, be in three places at once, and forget how to speak English once in awhile. But she knows what the word friend means, and she is a perfect example of loyalty and dedication.

Silva and Sarra during On Display at the Blanton Museum

As her departure appears on the horizon, I will not say goodbye, but instead, see you soon. I wish you and your family good fortune, fun adventures, and new beginnings. I love you and will miss you – a lot. Thank you for being my friend.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Lion and Pirate (in Costume!)

Hey everyone! This is Eric, your friendly neighborhood OMOD coordinator and open mic co-host, here to tell you about a special Halloween edition of our Lion and Pirate coming up next Sunday, October 29th, from 1:30-3:30 PM, and trust me, you do not want to miss out. Why, you ask? Well to start, it will be one of those rare opportunities where you get to see yours truly in costume – and it's a pretty good costume, if I say so myself. And if that isn't enough, you'll get to hear me sing a song or two with a new musical collaborator (Who is it? You've got to come and find out!)

Playing with my friend Chris at the last open mic
(Photo courtesy of Malvern Books)

We are also excited to have several Opening Minds, Opening Doors (OMOD) speakers join us to share some of their all-time (mis-) adventures in costume, while also in costume. Mind-blowing? I think so. We hope to make this OMOD presence a staple of the Lion and Pirate by also making the open mic our monthly OMOD meet-up. So expect to see more OMOD speakers sharing stories and wisdom at the open mic in the coming months! Also, if you can make it out for the open mic this month, be sure to join the OMOD crew right after the open mic for pizza at Austin's Pizza 29th St. (2928 Guadalupe St., Austin, TX 78705) where the fun will continue and you can find out how you too can become an OMOD speaker.

So dust off that costume or pick out a new one and bring your talented self down to Malvern Books (613 W. 29th St., Austin, TX 78705) next Sunday, October 29th, from 1:30-3:30 PM for a fun afternoon! Contact me if you have any questions or would like a free costume consultation; email me at or call the VSA office at 512-454-9912. You can also find event updates, RSVP, and invite your friends on our open mic Facebook event page here. Malvern Books is close to Cap Metro bus routes 1, 3, and 22. You may want to arrive early to find a parking space or park at Cabo Bob's across the street, as they are closed on Sundays. See you there!

Mac the Corgi puppy dressed up as Chewbacca. What are you going to be? 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Body Shift Elements Teacher Profile: Lauren Tietz and Tuning Scores

Originally written and posted October 10, 2017 by Olivia O'Hare on the Body Shift blog. Reposted with permission. Photos courtesy of Amber Ortega.

In order to enhance our practice of moving together this month we have invited guest artist, Lauren Tietz, to our Elements class to teach movement from a somewhat different perspective. She will offer an exploration of Lisa Nelson’s Tuning Scores which, similar to the DanceAbility method, uses more open directives to allow freedom to move in ways that feel good to your body no matter what your abilities or experience level are.

Tuning Scores are a fascinating mosaic of movement and performance discoveries originated by Lisa Nelson. Tuning Scores reveal the basic elements of action, by attuning to the rich details of composition, behavior, and communication, altogether. The games are a multisensorial and kaleidoscopic set of practices that are wildly fun to do. Through the specificity of solo movement warm ups, group dancing, and verbal cues, tuning lays out an approach for performance research that can change how you make, perceive, and do in any creative medium.

Tuning Scores are an intriguing way to investigate fundamental elements of performance, movement behavior, and communication, altogether. The explorations illuminate how we compose perception through action; in other words, we learn how what we see is inextricably linked to how we see, through our multisensorial layers of observation. In “tuning,” we practice together, using both movement and verbal calls. Through these, we communicate our desires, our imagination, and our memory, in a shared image space. And with this material, we compose live art, together.

Margit Galanter and Lauren Tietz during Margit’s 2017 Tuning Scores workshop

Lauren is delighted by the poetics of the everyday- holding hands in public, the color of beet borscht, the dull circular sound of feet against a dry limestone creek bed. She is intrigued with the experience of small, daily things and the cumulative impressions they make on the human body over time. Her work seeks to expose, through movement, sound and image, a certain immediacy of vulnerability and intimacy.

Lauren is a dancer, somatic movement educator, craniosacral therapist, Pilates instructor and filmmaker based in Austin. As an artist and healing arts practitioner she loves to uncover the intelligence of the body, its nuance, poetry and wise council. She savors this relationship of body to language, inner to outer. She believes the body’s expression of movement is our birthright and it is with delight that she shares this work with people of all ages, backgrounds or experience level.

Photo taken during Margit Galenter’s 2017 Tuning Scores workshop

So be sure to join us for this month's special edition of our bimonthly Elements class every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month (this month it will be October 14th and 28th) from 2:30-4:30pm at Town Lake YMCA in the large group exercise room on the first floor.

No gym membership is required to attend. Open to adults age 16 and up; all abilities and experience levels. No registration necessary and fee for class is on a sliding scale from $5-$20, cash or check accepted. See you at the Y!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Another Day of Art at Moody Gardens

I know you have missed me and my blog entries. This is Lynn here at VSA Texas. My most favorite activity is a spectacular event called Art in the Gardens, which is our annual outdoor hands-on festival for kids of all ages with disabilities, held at the famous Moody Gardens® in Galveston. A week ago today was our sixth annual Art in the Gardens festival, and this year’s theme was “Stars of the Sea” in celebration of Moody Gardens' newly refurbished Aquarium. It was a bright sunny day with high humidity, but the water was beautiful and the breeze was blowing. Perfect day. April and I got there early and set up our art activities. Then volunteers started rolling in, and the first performers arrived and began drumming to get us all in the mood for a good time.

The Moody Gardens complex from the water: a white tent pavilion and 3 large glass pyramids with hotel behind
(Courtesy of Moody Gardens)

In case you didn't know, Moody Gardens began in the mid-1980s with a horse barn, a riding arena with a hippotherapy riding program for people with head injuries, and an extraordinary vision to create an island tourist destination. Today Moody Gardens is one of the premier educational and leisure facilities in the Southwest. It also provides horticultural therapy, education and employment for persons with a wide range of physical and emotional disabilities.

Even though Hurricane Harvey battered southeastern Texas just a month earlier, arts organizations in the area rallied and came out to provide art activities for more than 400 attendees. Among the activities were great jellyfish cutouts with the Junior League of Galveston County, paper plate fishbowl making with The Kids Club of UTM School of Nursing, decorating king and queen crowns with Galveston Arts Center, and making “Stars of the Sea” headbands with Moody Gardens. A man in a shark suit could also be spotted visiting with all the kids and bringing friendly shark smiles everywhere.

The shark man complete with a green button-up shirt in a crowd of kids

Chalk drawing (below) was also a big hit for everyone. In most cases, we connected big plastic apparatuses with chalk to kids' wheelchairs to facilitate making their own chalk art. Other kids would run around excitedly pushing the chalk apparatuses like old lawn mowers. All the kids seemed to head straight for that activity as they entered the tented pavilion.

Kids traverse the colorful, chalk-covered concrete floor of the pavilion. Note the chalk drawing apparatus.

Lots of great performers were also present to entertain our folks. Joy of Djembe Drumming started off the morning with lots of drumming, and a conga line slowly formed. Later, the wonderful Down Syndrome Association of Houston rocked the floor with “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” (seen in the video below).

Texas A&M University at Galveston Two Steps followed that up with their country western thang, which was fabulous. Afterwards we ate lunch with all the volunteers provided by Moody Gardens, then cleared away all our sea gear, shook hands, hugged, and said “yeah! another great year” and the kids danced and sang and swayed and enjoyed going to the Aquarium Pyramid compliments of Moody Gardens. Thank you Galveston and Moody Gardens for participating and providing another great day for all the kids, parents, and teachers. Looking forward to next year’s theme!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Mental Illness Awareness Week 2017

Did you know that the first full week of October every year is Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW)? It was established in 1990 by the U.S. Congress to educate and increase awareness about mental illness. This year MIAW will be celebrated next week, October 1-7, 2017. Did you know that one in five adults will experience mental illness in a given year? VSA Texas honors artists with mental illness in our annual Mental Illness Awareness Week art show held every year in San Antonio.

We are only able to bring you this fabulous exhibit because of the dedication of one volunteer, Susan Beattie. Susan has hosted the MIAW exhibit since 2002. She invited us to be her hosting partner in 2007. And 11 years later, we are still going strong. Susan starts working on the next exhibition as soon as the previous one is over each year. She finds the venue, coordinates the details of the reception, promotes the event, solicits artists, and so much more. Her passion for this show is unstoppable! Plus she has become a great friend over the years.

Photo of April and Susan with our faces painted at the Grand Opening of Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio in 2010

Susan is a collage artist and photographer. As an artist living with mental illness she thought it was important to make sure that people with mental illness were seen for their positive attributes, skills, and contributions to society rather than be stigmatized as “crazy.” She does a great job of getting this message across by presenting a professional exhibition of work by San Antonio artists with disabilities.

Photo of collage by Susan Beattie

For the past several years, High Wire Arts has been the home of the Mental Illness Awareness Week art show. Owners Cindy and Ray were very supportive of the show. This year we have moved to a new (to us!) but well respected venue, Bihl Haus Gallery. We are excited to work with Kellen and hopefully make this space our new home for future MIAW exhibitions.

Photo of Susan and Ray at one of our previous MIAW openings

Come out to this year’s opening reception Saturday, September 30th from 5:30-8:30pm at Bihl Haus Gallery, 2803 Fredericksburg Road, San Antonio, TX 78201. We are featuring artwork by 20 artists, and there will be live music by the Michael Waid Duo. If you can’t make the opening, the exhibit will be on view through October 7th. Gallery hours are 1-4pm Fridays and Saturdays OR through appointment by calling 210-383-9723.

Photo of "Anxiety Boy vs Doctor Diagnosis" by Raquel Majeno

If you have never been there before, Bihl Haus is the historic building located inside the gate of Primrose at Monticello Park Senior Apartments (across from the Tip Top Cafe). Please park in the circle lot and enter through the walk-in gate. Overflow parking is available at Redeemer Church.

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 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!