Art, music speaks to students in language all its own

Art, music speaks to students in language all its own
A volunteer helps Wyatt Kushmaul with an art project at The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.

Twenty-five deaf/hard-of-hearing students and those with varying exceptionalities from Central Riverside Elementary School enjoyed the 23rd annual Very Special Arts (VSA) festival May 2 at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.

Over a four-day period during the first week in May, over 1,450 volunteers welcomed 1,678 students and 691 teachers and chaperones from 38 schools in Clay and Duval Counties to enjoy art, music and nature at the Riverside museum.

Volunteers wearing bright headgear escorted the children to eight art stations, where they modeled clay birds, painted oceans, and created still-life collages. The curriculum is totally different each year so, for students who come back, the experience is fresh and new.

“I loved our field trip to the Cummer Museum art festival. I made a boat painting, a tissue-paper collage but the best part was the ribbon dancing in the garden,” said Aly Perez. Classmate Ethan Denmark chimed in. “I loved everything so much! I loved the music and making so much art. It was amazing, and I want to go again next year,” he said.

Music is also part of the annual event as are musicians Arvid Smith of Murray Hill and Ajamu Mutima of Neptune Beach, who return each year to lead the children in movement and music.

Although Central Riverside’s strong arts program led by Terry Woodlief may be the exception, for students from other schools the festival may be the only time during the school year they have exposure to the arts and access to art materials. The Cummer Museum is also likely one of few, if not the only, major art museum which hosts hands-on art projects among its priceless paintings, sculptures and other works of art.

“It is so satisfying to see our exceptional students thrive in an art-making environment. Many of our students struggle with academics so it brings me such joy to see them feel successful when they make art,” said Woodlief. “What they say is true: Art can change lives.”

A sister organization to the Special Olympics, VSA is an international organization founded 44 years ago by U.S. Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith. The Jacksonville affiliate began in 1995 with a two-hour festival, serving a couple hundred children with 50 volunteers.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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