Every spring break students find new and exciting ways to spend their week sabbatical from academic studies. The students that participated in the Center for Civic Engagement’s Alternative Break program are no exception. Alternative Break is a program that hosts student-led trips during academic breaks. It provides participants with hands-on experience in social justice issues while immersing them in new cultures. This year the College of Charleston had five trips to various parts of the country and the world.
Here one of the participants, Madeline Ryan, articulates her experiences in Nashville, TN on a trip titled Artistic Abilities: Abilities, disabilities, and the arts in Music City. Click on the headings for each day to visit her blog and read more.
This week, I’m participating in what’s called an alternative spring break. Through CofC, I along with 10 other ladies are heading to Nashville to work with and learn from art organizations that work with people with disabilities. Our trip is called Artistic Abilities.
Inside the basement, we got a tour from the director of the Parthenon! She was so excited and knowledgable about every aspect of the history of this site. For those of you who don’t know, Nashville had an International Exposition in 1897, celebrating its 100th year of statehood. Huge temporary buildings representing and celebrating cultures from around the world were built. Everything from pyramids to the Parthenon, fair games to exotic cafes, and a women’s building to a Chinese village were constructed. Though this fair was supposed to be a way to educate people who might never get the chance to travel, accuracy was not emphasized but rather our American stereotypes of different cultures. However, the main focus of the exposition was on the idea that Nashville is an “Athens of the South.”
At a long country farm table in the back, we meet Leisa Hammett. Leisa is the mother of an artist with autism, the one who runs her daughter’s art business, and a volunteer advocate for issues dealing with artists with disabilities . . . She started to talk about the start of her realization that her daughter had a passion for creating art and about starting her daughter’s business and the obstacles that she has overcome. She talked about how difficult it is to be running a business and raising her daughter by herself. She also talked about how difficult it is on the national level to find support for artists with disabilities: she is thinking about how she will combat the laws against getting disability support if her daughter’s business starts making too much money. What was really neat was that she did talk about disabilities, but she was talking like any other art business manager would be about his/her origins and issues.
My group . . . timidly peeked into the room at the end of the hall. This room had day patients from a center called Clover Bottom Developmental. These individuals are on the most severe end of the spectrum of intellectual disabilities. Most all were in chairs and a couple were hooked up to feeding tubes. The staff and nurses introduced us to all of them and their little quirks: someone didn’t like to be touched, someone laughed when you pretended to trip, someone loved to tap their feet to music, someone would want to just to be left alone.
During our dancing activities, one of the leaders filmed us. Our activity is part of a celebration of the 40th anniversary of this organization called VSA which is a state organization for arts and disabilities. This video will be exchanged with a partner in Austria, who is videoing a similar jazz activity. These videos will be put up online as a lead-up for the main celebration in July in DC. We are one of sixty countries represented in this celebration.
This morning we went back to the Rochelle center to mainly observe a music therapy session. As we crowded into the back of the small room, the young woman picked up her guitar singing “Hello, I’m glad to see you” to each of the individuals in the session. These individuals were on the moderate to severe spectrum. One individual would just smile up at the ceiling when she would sing his/her name, another would cover his/her face saying “Don’t scare me!” and another would acknowledge that she was singing his/her name but not want to interact with her. There were about 5 participants. During the session, she would do simple activities like “shake your tambourine when I sing the letter that your name starts with…and the letter is __” Or “let’s shake our tambourines really softly…now really loudly” While some had to continually have help to reposition the tambourine in their hands, one individual was so excited during a song that he stood up and shook his tambourine up high in the air.
Outside of the Kennedy Center, they have a small playground with cameras where they note the movement and interactions of children with and without autism, all who have fanny packs that record audio. They also have a volunteer called a confederate who has a bug in his/her ear to hear instructions given by Dr. Corbett and her research assistants. Even before this project, Dr. Corbett was interested in the interactions of individuals with autism and their typically developing peers. Before coming to Vanderbilt, she started a non-profit organization called SENSE theater. They produce plays with psychology students at the school, children with autism, and typically developing peers from schools in the area. Throughout her talk on her theater, Dr. Corbett continually stressed the importance of pairing individuals with autism with a fellow peer in a safe environment where no one will bully them.
So, today was wonderful and sad. Wonderful because we all woke up to snow!! But sad because all of our site visits were cancelled for the day because of the ice on the roads. Today, we were supposed to go back to the Rochelle Center (and I was really excited to serve in another room and have new experiences with new individuals) and go to a dress rehearsal for SENSE Theater.
When we got to Nashville, all of us for some reason, decided to adopt the most country accent you’ve ever heard. But no one else took up this challenge as much as Stephanie. Throughout the whole trip, she hardly abandoned her accent and she feared that it had become a part of her, or maybe that this was her true accent all along…