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