July 2016

by DeeGee Lester/ Director of Education/ The Parthenon

For so many with disabilities, the arts can be their voice, their therapy, their inspiration, their bridge to the community and the wider world.

On Thursday, July 28 (6 to 8 p.m.), the public is invited to witness the empowering impact of the arts as VSA Tennessee hosts its 15th Anniversary at Amberleaf Marketplace in Gallatin, Tennessee.

The free event features two performance stages, visual art displays, videos, and activities for everyone, says VSA Tennessee Executive Director Lori Kissinger. “It is also a chance to showcase our artists and take a stroll down memory lane and to see how multifaceted we are as an organization. However, I am mostly looking forward to the chance to say thank you to the many, many individuals and organizations that have supported and partnered with us over the years.”

Students from Cohn High School created a mural made of bottle caps that was given to the Nashville Zoo for their 20th anniversary. Photograph by Lori Kissinger

Students from Cohn High School created a mural made of bottle caps that was given to the Nashville Zoo for their 20th anniversary; Photograph by Lori Kissinger

Dedicated to the belief that “every person deserves access to quality arts learning experiences,” VSA Tennessee is part of an international organization established in 1974 to bring arts access to those with disabilities. Evolving into VSA (Very Special Arts) in 1985, the organization became (in 2011) the Department of VSA and Accessibility at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The evening includes on-stage performances showcasing winners from 15 years of the Young Soloist Program, as well as the Dulcimer Choir and Movement Connection—a dance company led by Danielle Clement and comprised of young people with Down syndrome who have performed across the state.

The visual arts provide delightful surprises. “Souper Bowl” is a collection of soup bowls crafted each year by students from the Tennessee School for the Blind in conjunction with the NFL’s Super Bowl. Under the guidance of art teacher Monica Leister, student soup bowl creations are displayed at a reception at the Clay Lady’s Studios, where guests “vote” by donating to their favorite bowl. All money collected is sent to an orphanage in a designated country such as Haiti or Nepal, while canned goods collected from guests each year are donated to a local food bank. In addition, one bowl is selected as winner of the prestigious Ernest Fitzgerald Award honoring a blind architect.

Resident artist-led projects also abound, such as lead artist Dee Kimbrell’s mural project at the Cohn School. VSA participants visited the Nashville Zoo and learned about environmental concerns and the plight of endangered species, such as the Clouded Leopard. In celebration of the National Parks’ 100th anniversary and the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Nashville Zoo, young artists created a mural based on environmental concerns from recycled bottle caps.

Meghan Maynard with Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith when VSA’s international quilt was accepted into the Arts in Embassy Program in Washington, DC. Photograph by Joanne Amos

Meghan Maynard with Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith when VSA’s international quilt was accepted into the Arts in Embassy Program in Washington, DC; Photograph by Joanne Amos

Representing the unity for the arts by people with disabilities, the video (part of VSA’s 40 Days Around the World Digital Arts Festival) shows a 2015 VSA Tennessee-led project combining quilt squares from 37 countries into a hand-made quilt, pieced together by 20 Tennessee participants led by MTSU professor Lauren Rudd. Last summer the quilt was presented by Meghan Maynard at the U.S. State Department to former Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith who will send it to U.S. embassies around the world as part of the Arts in Embassies Program.

For more information on the July 28 event or VSA programs, visit www.vsatn.org.

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