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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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New Addition to the AH Team: Kiran Rajagopalan

Arts Horizons is pleased to welcome Mr. Kiran Rajagopalan to our team as the Program Coordinator for the NYC Residencies and Special Populations Department.

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Kiran in his Professional Avatar
Photo By:  J. Wesley Beeks

Kiran is an accomplished dancer, choreographer, writer, and educator.  Trained extensively in Bharatanatyam (Indian classical dance) for over 25 years, Kiran has given many acclaimed performances in India, Indonesia, Germany, Spain, France, and the United States.  While living in India from 2007-2014, he organized free dance workshops and performances for underprivileged students in government (public) schools throughout the country.  After returning to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in Performance Studies at NYU, he became a teaching artist in the New York public school system and conducted residencies for 3-8th graders which seamlessly integrate poetry, science, and/or reading comprehension with Bharatanatyam.  He joined Arts Horizons in December 2016 as a program coordinator, and he serves as a liaison between the administrative team in the New Jersey office and the teaching artists and site coordinators for residencies in New York.  He also conducts site visits to assess and evaluate residencies.

Aside from his work in arts education, Kiran regularly conducts workshops, lectures, and demonstrations on Indian classical dance and science.  His “NeuroArt” talks on aesthetics, performance, and neuroscience have been particularly appreciated.  In addition, he is the founder and artistic director of Daya Arts which promotes Bharatanatyam through artist-to-artist collaborations and small ensemble work.  In 2016, he co-founded No Rest in the Kingdom as an initiative to facilitate new conversations between disparate communities of color on issues of gender, race, class, & colonialism in the arts.

kiran-1Kiran in his Dancer Avatar
Photo By:  Santhosh Raj

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