Friday, February 23, 2018

Amplify VSA's Veterans Projects!

Next week, the region’s largest day of giving, “Amplify Austin,” will lift off on March 1st. For a 24-hour period, people from throughout the nation will make donations to VSA Texas. Click here to schedule your donation. All donations, no matter the size, are meaningful to us.

Do your friends and family know about VSA’s life-enhancing Veterans Services Programming? These programs, which include classes, workshops, and performances in the arts, writing, and music, address post-conflict healing and reintegration for people who have served and are currently serving in our armed forces.

Scientific studies inform us that art heals by changing a person’s physiology and attitude. Ultimately, veterans with combat stress must achieve some meaningful role in their lives that is separate from their injury. Joining a larger community and interacting with people who are unrelated to their injury or illness helps to end isolation.

VSA Texas has 9 years experience producing arts programs designed for members of the military community, with strong support from veterans service organizations. Our Veterans Services Programming strengthens the relationship between creative veterans and the public by offering another way to consider war and its toll on the human spirit.

Through our programs, veterans are gently supported as they become part of the larger civilian and artistic community. We see ourselves as a launch pad for growth and encourage participants to use us as a stepping-stone for full integration.

We currently have over 300 artists on our veteran artist roster and have experienced an increased demand for projects to support writers, musicians, and craftsmen. We need your help to grow the program so that we can continue challenging perceptions of how people contribute by creating an arts-inspired, inclusive community of individuals with diverse abilities. Please click here to schedule your donation for Amplify Austin Day!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Introducing ATXgo!

Austin is a town of festivals. Or so we like to think! But, if you check out our new ATXgo! website, you will witness for yourself the plethora of festivals that happen here every year. No matter your interest, there is a festival for you.

Screenshot of the ATXgo! website homepage

Thanks to a generous cultural expansion contract from the City of Austin’s Cultural Arts Division, we were able to research all of the festivals in town and the venues and parks where they all take place. We were hoping to highlight the accessible features of all of the venues – or not – but stepped back from that for several reasons. If you care to know why, give me a call and I will fill you in on all the salacious details. However, we have listed the direct access contact for all festivals and venues who have made that information available on their website.

Note to everyone: If you have an access policy and procedures to book tickets, get information about location, parking, bus routes, and accommodations such as captioning, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting, audio description, etc., and it is not available on your website, ADD IT and then send us the link. We will update your listing, which saves your potential visitor the added time of trying to contact you to get the information from a live person in your box office, house manager’s office, or executive director’s office. Remember that most people surf the Internet at night. This is not conducive to calling to get the necessary information, and they may just decide to spend their hard earned cash somewhere else!

In addition to the festival and venue information, we also have included many resources for the individual or organization trying to ensure their venues, programs, and services are accessible to everyone. Check out the ADA Toolkit for links to the DOJ if you are looking for the ADA regulations – or handy tips, guidelines, and training tools. If you have a resource that should be featured, please send it along and we will happily add it to the toolkit.

We are thrilled to be able to make this simple planning resource available to our residents and visitors – be it your first or 100th trip to Austin. If you know of a festival we have overlooked, or a venue that we need to mention, please send us an email and we will add it to our site.

Just a small snapshot of the comprehensive list of festivals you can find on the ATXgo! site

I have to thank Camille Wheeler for providing most of the photos on the site, as well as VSA staff and some other folks who are credited on the site. We plan to update photos and information on a regular basis, so if you have a high-resolution photo that shows Austin at its quirkiest, please don’t hesitate to send it along.

So, happy festival-going, friends. And welcome to Austin!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

From Combat to Community

I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week in the Killeen area and at Fort Hood for the Texas Creative Forces Summit. This convening of veterans, current military personnel, artists, arts providers and veteran service providers was the start of something big. Although, a focus on the arts as a healing tool for veterans is not a new idea. In fact, we have been focusing on this issue at VSA Texas since 2009. But it is nice to see more growth in this area and to have backing by federal organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Defense.

The first day started with speeches by Texas State Representative Hugh Shine and Mayor of Killeen Jose Segarra. Our keynote speaker was local veteran artist Chris Van Loan who has participated in some of our programs.

"Ascension" by Chris Van Loan from the 8th Annual Distinguished Artist Veterans Exhibition

We learned about the programs happening at the Intrepid Center of Excellence including their robust Art Therapy and Music Therapy programs. Fort Hood soldiers with PTSD and TBI work through 8 weeks of intensive therapies that include these modalities. But as we learned, only 50% of people who need services seek services clinically. So community arts programs like the writing classes we offer at VSA Texas can fill those gaps.

At lunch we were treated to speeches by special guests Cecilia Abbott, the First Lady of Texas, and Karen Pence, the Second Lady of the U.S. Both are strong supporters of the arts and especially art therapy. We already knew that about Mrs. Abbott because we had been approached by the Governor’s Office last November to find a veteran artist interested in drawing the Governor’s Christmas card. We chose artist Lucia Miron, a Veteran from North Texas who captured a room in the governor’s mansion decorated by Mrs. Abbott for Christmas in a Fiesta style. She also featured the family dog.

A draft of the Texas Governor’s 2017 Christmas Card designed by Veteran Artist Lucia Miron

Karen Pence speaking about the importance of Art Therapy

Our afternoon was filled with ideas and information from artists, arts organizations, storytellers, and musicians.

The next day we went to Fort Hood and watched a performance piece called Re-Entry by American Records. It was a powerful work that used direct language from interviews with returning service members and their family. After that we had small group discussions to synthesize what we learned and what our strategies would be going forward to make the IH-35 Corridor from San Antonio to Fort Worth a robust area for our current service members, veterans, and their families to participate in the arts. As Retired Brigadier General Nolen V. Bivens said throughout the conference, we need to bring our military “from Combat to Community” through the arts!

Left to right: Rick Perkins, Glenn Towery, April Sullivan, Bart Pitchford, Miriam Conner at the Creative Forces Conference