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Arts in Atlanta: AH @ VSA Intersections

Is it fall already? Time really flew by as Arts Horizons was fully engrossed in preparing for our 40th anniversary celebrations, running our summer programs, drafting proposals for our school year programs, and attending national conferences! In fact, AH program coordinator Kiran Rajagopalan was in Atlanta in August for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ annual VSA Interactions:  Arts and Special Education Conference. This conference brought together “professionals in the intersecting fields of arts education and special education” from all over the United States, and it fostered opportunities “to share current information in research, practice, programs, and policy” over two days of plenary sessions, rapid-fire presentations, professional development classes, and hands-on workshops.

One of Kiran’s favorite presentations was a quick, 15-minute talk on the role of peer partners in art inclusion programs for public schools. Presenters Jonathan Hale and Kelby McIntyre-Martinez provided evidence-based research, conducted on students at Sprucewood Elementary and Jordan Valley schools in Utah, for optimizing socialization between typically and non-typically developing students through “cluster units” in integrated visual art classes. A unit consisted of 1-2 peer partners and 1-2 other typically developing students from Sprucewood seated alongside 2 non-typically developing students from Jordan Valley at a table. They are eager to expand their research into developing similar “cluster units” for integrated performing arts classes.

Jonathan Hale and Kelby McIntyre-Martinez present a schematic showing “cluster units” in an integrated classroom

Samantha Davis’s practical workshop on positive behavior supports and other classroom management tactics was equally illuminating. The core of her approach to successfully managing disruptive students, especially those with emotional and behavioral disorders, lies in her innovative adaptation of Polsky’s Diamond in the classroom. This social psychology model was originally developed in 1962 by Dr. Howard W. Polsky to assess group dynamics and fluid social hierarchy among at-risk male youth. Ms. Davis discussed the various social types outlined in Polsky’s Diamond and how their unique behavioral traits appear in and inform classroom dynamics. She also stressed the importance of carefully observing shifts in student hierarchy and incentivizing certain productive behaviors to maintain firm control of the classroom.

Overall, VSA Intersections was seamlessly organized and executed, and almost all of the sessions offered were very well conceived and informative. Other highlights from the conference included a rousing keynote address by spoken word artist and poet LeDerick Horne along with energetic performances and touching testimonials by students from DeKalb School of the Arts in Georgia. There was a concerted effort by the Kennedy Center to be inclusive, and they were mostly successful in terms of discussing strategies to increase access to the arts for and engagement with many different special needs populations. It is important to note that a large percentage of this conference’s attendees do admirable work in low-income and/or urban areas around the country with predominantly Black and Latinx students. Therefore, it would be beneficial to devote several sessions in next year’s conference to discussing nuanced cross-cultural pedagogy for students of color with special needs.

Dekalb School of the Arts’ students performing a Broadway musical number

VSA Intersections was a fitting capstone to commemorate AH’s 4 incredible years of implementing arts education programs under contract with the Kennedy Center’s Department of VSA and Accessibility! For the past two consecutive years, Arts Horizons was contracted for 4 visual arts residencies at District 75 and Hospital schools in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx through the VSA Children’s Visual Arts Discovery Program. We are pleased to announce that we are contracted for 5 music and visual arts residencies through the VSA Arts Connects All – Workshop/Residency Program for the 2018-2019 school year:

  1. Sunshine Children’s Home and Rehab Center (Upstate New York)
  2. Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center (Brooklyn)
  3. Hospital Schools @ Kings County Hospital (Brooklyn)
  4. Hospital Schools @ Mt. Sinai-St. Luke’s Hospital (Manhattan)
  5. Ps 188X @ PS 34X (Bronx)

Stay tuned for next post in which we officially announce our Arts For ELL+SWD partner schools for the 2018-2019 academic year!


For more information, please contactDena Malarek – Director, NYC Residencies & Special Populations (212-268-7219*108; dena@artshorizons.org) or Kiran Rajagopalan – Program Coordinator, NYC Residencies & Special Populations (212-268-7219*113; kiran@artshorizons.org)

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VSA-VAD: Visualizing & Realizing Artistic Potential in Students with Special Needs

Arts Horizons is pleased to highlight and recognize our arts education programs under contract with John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Department of VSA and Accessibility. During this academic year, Arts Horizons has been contracted for 4 visual arts residencies at District 75 and Hospital schools in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx through the VSA Children’s Visual Arts Discovery program (VSA-VAD). The schools are:  PS 226M @ PS 76M (A. Philip Randolph) in Manhattan, PS 188X @ PS 34X in the Bronx, Queens Transition Center @ High School for Law Enforcement & Public Safety in Queens, and Hospital Schools @ Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn.

Through VSA-VAD, Arts Horizons provided approximately 8 hours of instruction per student at each of the schools listed above. Our residencies fulfilled VSA-VAD’s aim “to build students’ skills through the application of sound pedagogical principals and quality curricula to create original words of visual art and the opportunity to explore one more visual arts media and genres.” They also aligned well with the Kennedy Center’s overarching theme for this year:  UBUNTU:  Yo Soy…Je suis…I am…Because you are. Ubuntu, which roughly translates to “humanity towards others” in the Nguni Bantu languages of Southern Africa, focuses on art’s unique ability to “create and sustain connections across race, culture, religion, and experience.” An added incentive for students was the opportunity to submit work to be showcased at the Kennedy Center’s “International Art Program for Children with Disabilities” live and online exhibitions in Washington D.C.

Longtime AH Teaching Artist Mr. Mansa Mussa and renowned Staten Island-based visual artist Ms. Sarah Yuster conducted successful and highly-regarded visual arts residencies this year. Mansa is a New Jersey-based visual and performing artist, educator, and consultant who recently celebrated his 20th year with Arts Horizons. Sarah is known for her paintings of urban landscapes and portraits as well as her “Small Truths” film project which documents the experiences of immigration through the eyes of children. AH Program Coordinator Kiran Rajagopalan had the opportunity to visit their classes and observe how they inspired students to showcase their creativity through compelling visual arts projects. Let’s take a quick peek into their classes!

We start with Sarah’s residency for Queens Transition Center at High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety. This District 75 school primarily serves high school students with Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) along with documented cases of violence and/or clinically diagnosed mental disorders. Visual art is effective among such students when it promotes creativity in a minimally triggering or volatile environment. Sarah was a nurturing, patient, and gentle instructor, and she was able to introduce her students to life drawing, action sketching, portraiture, and mixed media. According to Sarah, “once it became clear that [students] could delve into a personal endeavor of their choosing, many of them came in week after week to carefully attend a singular piece.” As a result, Sarah was able to submit several beautiful pieces for the Kennedy Center’s exhibition!

Mansa’s visual arts residency for District 75 elementary school PS 226M at PS 76M was devoted to collage-making. This artistic medium effectively showcases artistic creativity with easy-to-use materials such as stickers, stamps, gluesticks, and porous papers. Therefore, it is age-appropriate and safe for elementary school students with special needs and disabilities. Mansa is appreciated for his sensitive approach to teaching students in Hospital Schools and District 75 as well as his ability to pace classes without unnecessary wasting of time and/or art supplies. In this class, students spent the period adding an additional layer of 3-D objects made from grooved sticks and porous paper to their collages with the able assistance of teachers and paraprofessional educators. He even had students photograph their work using his iPad at the end of class!

Mansa also delivered visual arts residencies through VSA-VAD at PS 188X @ PS 34X and Hospital Schools @ Kings County Hospital. As one of our senior-most teaching artists, he will be representing Arts Horizons at the Kennedy Center’s VSA Interactions:  Arts and Special Education Conference in August!

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