Written by Torrie Peterson, Marketing and Development Intern
Each year the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is home to the Very Special Arts Festival for students with disabilities. The festival gives students the opportunity to visit the Museum, explore Art Connections, and create artwork through various art stops. The staff designed and brought to life several art projects that allow every student to participate, regardless of ability.
What I have yet to mention is that I am the Marketing and Development intern, and the VSA Festival was my first week At the Museum. I entered the Museum on Tuesday morning, and immediately made myself useful in one of two painting stations. Staff members thoroughly explained our responsibilities, and assigned everyone in the room to a table and job. Within the hour, thousands of students started pouring into the Museum, and rotating into our painting station. They started painting landscapes with green paints, then switched to reds to create flowers. It was a group effort by staff and volunteers to clean the tables and adaptable painting tools, and replace them before the next group of student visitors entered. The day went by fast, and we hustled to make every students experience the best. As I looked around the room, I realized why this festival is such a special week. You could tell just by watching them, that the students did not have many experiences like this, and were very excited. When the time came to move to another station, the students were sad to leave their work, and wanted to continue painting. It goes to show how universal art is, and how therapeutic it is for not only our student visitors, but for the volunteers and staff that help.
Later in the week, I helped staff and volunteers in the clay station and Art Connections by monitoring traffic and collecting the finished clay projects. The clay room – a little less messier than the painting station, but just as exciting – is where I saw the students creativity peak. The staff and volunteers showed the students how to mold their block of clay into a flower. Whether these students were hearing, visually, or language impaired, they were able to be successful. They used their hands, elbows, and chins to create something unique and meaningful. They were able to express themselves completely. By the end of the day I saw fewer flowers and more animals, such as dolphins and birds. I assisted a young boy who created a Batman sculpture, and would not rotate stations until he had the cape sculpted perfectly. As I collected the finished pieces, I reassured the students that they would get their sculptures back after we fired them. I can only imagine the excitement the students will exude when their sculptures finally arrive.
Being new to the festival, and a new intern to The Cummer, I was able to experience the VSA Festival in an exciting and unique way. I worked after VSA hours to prepare lunch for the volunteers who helped. I was able to witness the student’s excitement over the art, and I was able to share stories with the volunteers about their experiences. I was even given the opportunity to participate in the VIP/media tour that took place on Tuesday afternoon. The Cummer is the only VSA Museum that has the students to participate in projects throughout the galleries and grounds. I was told not to do for the students, but to guide them in creating whatever they felt. It was an inspiring and moving experience, and I feel grateful for my involvement.