Art festival for children with varying needs

Art festival for children  with varying needs
Catherine Bailey, teacher for deaf and hard of hearing students at Central Riverside Elementary School, made special emoji T-shirts for her pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, Naomi Koch, Karmiela Holland, Joseph Shipp, Arian Moore-Ervin and Tyanna Nelson.

Hundreds of children with special needs were treated to the sights and sounds of art at the Arts4All Festival (formerly VSA), presented by Citi April 30-May 3 at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. 

Over the four-day period more than 1,100 volunteers welcomed 1,370 students and 600 teachers and chaperones from 30 schools in Clay and Duval Counties to enjoy art, music and nature at the Riverside-based museum.

Twenty deaf/hard of hearing (DHH) students and those with varying exceptionalities from Central Riverside Elementary School were among the children who participated in a variety of hands-on art projects, escorted from station to station by volunteers wearing brightly decorated headbands to help the children stay within their guided group.

Central Riverside Elementary’s art teacher, Terry Woodlief, was accompanied by several teachers and by festival volunteer Candace McIntire, who interpreted for the deaf and hard of hearing students. McIntire, who is the Duval County Public Schools DHH program specialist, was originally a teacher for two years at Central Riverside.

In addition to new activities, which change each year, the program’s name also changed. Originally called Florida Arts for the Handicapped Program, five years after it was founded and accredited in 1981 the program – which provides, supports and champions arts education and cultural experiences for students with disabilities and special needs – was changed to Very Special Arts Florida, the official affiliate of VSA, an international organization founded in 1974 by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith. 

The Jacksonville affiliate was started in 1995, when The Cummer hosted its first Very Special Arts Festival. The organization’s name was formally shortened to VSA Arts of Florida in 1999, then changed to VSA Florida in 2010, both times at the direction of the VSA national office. 

In 2018, VSA Florida changed its name to Arts4All Florida after the VSA at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts discontinued its affiliate program that year. 

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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