Monday, February 22, 2010

Spotlight: The Club of Arts

This is the first in our new Spotlight series in which we have invited folks from some of the Pikes Peak region's diverse arts groups to tell us what they do, who they work with, and what they're all about. This post was written by Jessie Pocock, Development Director at the Club of Arts.


There are 54 million people with disabilities in the United States making it the largest minority group. -Colorado Springs Independent

The unemployment rate for those with disabilities in the United States is 63.1 percent. The El Paso County rate was close to 80 percent in 2008. -The Resource Exchange, Cornell University

In 2009 alone 232 people with disabilities in El Paso County participated in art at TCOA in over 7,500 artistic interactions.

From Jessie:
Before attending the grand opening of The Club of Arts in 2005, I rarely considered why I almost never encountered people with developmental disabilities in the community. As a sociology major at Colorado College, I didn’t notice that there were no class offerings in my department that focused on the social issues concerning disabled people. It wasn’t until I entered the community of people with disabilities that I learned how powerful their voices can be.

Since I have been associated with The Club of Arts, (a nonprofit art organization reaching people with disabilities through artistic education, expression, and performance) I have learned so much about the strength, endurance, and power of people with disAbilities. For example, there are students like Allicia, who was on the waiting list for services she had been deemed eligible to receive for fourteen years. Allicia came to The Club of Arts hungry for independence, in need of a safe place to express herself. She is an incredibly talented silk dye artist. Her parents believe that art and TCOA have saved her life.

There are students who had never engaged in the arts previous to TCOA, like Marty, who is in his forties and started taking classes at TCOA a couple of years ago. Marty began experimenting with gluing wine corks to wooden boards and has now created intricate cork cities and has discovered a fine talent for diorama.

And there is Joe, an incredible oil painter who cannot physically speak because of his disability, but has found that he can communicate powerfully through art. In his self-portrait series, “Beyond My Wheelchair,” Joe paints his body trapped inside of a bottle demonstrating how the world occurs for him as a young man with a disabled body inside a world that is uncomfortable with difference. For Joe, art has become a way for him to communicate and a way for people to listen. Here's Joe at Exposion in summer 2009.
Joe wrote a poem about his experience of showing the world what he can do through his art.

Trapped in a Bottle
I am trapped in the bottle that is my life.
Always on the inside looking out
My bottle does protect me
All the while restricting me.

My bottle doesn’t allow friends
Nor does it allow climbing mountains.
It keeps me from being a drummer
And it doesn’t permit surfing.
My bottle doesn’t like babies
Nor does it like motorcycles.

But I have found a way around my bottle.
My bottle does allow art.
What my bottle doesn’t know
Is that by letting me paint,
It is losing control over me.

Painting frees me from my bottle.
I can paint thoughts my bottle won’t permit.
I can paint peace and frustration
And I can paint love and hatred.
I can paint spirituality and freedom
And I can paint hope and majesty.
I can paint patriotism and pride
And I can paint security and stereotyping.
I can paint good and evil
And I can paint alienation and connections.

Even though my bottle tries to protect me,
I still have all these thoughts.
And because my bottle allows art,
The world will know my thoughts.

Today, TCOA serves over 200 artists with disabilities, who through the artistic process are finding their own unique form of expression, a place to be heard, and a tangible artistic contribution to make that is appreciated and respected.

For more information about The Club of Arts please visit us online or stop in and visit. Our students love visitors! We are located at 505 E. Columbia St., 80907.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Poetry Out Loud

Last night I had the distinct privilege of serving as a judge for the Palmer High School Poetry Out Loud competition. Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry recitation contest, was founded in 2006 by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. I've been aware of the program for several years, but I didn't get to actually experience it until last year at COPPeR and the Chamber's Business and Arts Luncheon, where Colorado state champion (and Palmer High School student) Kaleena Kovach stole the show with her moving recitation of a Margaret Atwood poem. It's not easy to captivate a room full of 300+ business people, but this 17-year-old did just that, and left the room hungry for more. As one luncheon attendee put it, "I am still amazed that the highlights were local opera singers and teen aged poetry performers."

Last night's competition was brief, with only three competitors, but there was a decent crowd of people to support the contestants, and the evening was carefully and lovingly executed, including incidental music. There were five judges: Aaron Anstett, the reigning Pikes Peak Poet Laureate, Jim Ciletti, poet extraordinaire and owner of Hooked on Books, Slam Poetry Mistess Karen Sucharski, Molly Gross, co-director of the Colorado College Writing Center and candidate for an MFA in poetry at Bennington, and yours truly. The reciters were of varying ability, but all were enthusiastic. The coach, Heather Brown, has done a phenomenal job of inspiring her students to appreciate poetry. But after my experience last night, I think she's gone beyond that; in fact, she has given each of her students a truly profound gift.

My grandfather was born in 1903. One summer when he was well in his eighties, we went on afternoon walks almost daily. On these walks, he told me all about his education in the small town in Texas, where he grew up on a farm. He went to a one-room school and eventually worked his way up to earning a scholarship to Oberlin. One of his favorite memories, and thus one of the stories he liked to tell again and again, was how his teacher required him to memorize poems. Numerous poems. Later, as his health declined and he became more senile, he had trouble remembering how to complete simple tasks. But he never forgot a poem. Those poems that he was forced to memorize in that little schoolhouse gave him a sense of peace that could never be taken away.

I was reminded of my grandfather last night. Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins and Carl Sandburg, which I'd read on the page many times years ago in class, came alive. It was as if by hearing them so lovingly recited, I was able to truly understand the poems, without having to parse or dissect them. It took the labor out of poetry appreciation and left all the joy.

One of the goals of Poetry Out Loud is to help students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. But they also gain fundamental understanding of individual poems and they will take those poems with them for the rest of their lives. For lack of a more poetic way to say it, that is just really, really cool.

Want to learn more about Poetry Out Loud? Click here.

For your enjoyment, one of the poems from last night's competition.

The Cities Inside Us by Alberto Rios

We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.

We speak words between us that we recognize
But which cannot be looked up.

They are our words.
They come from very far inside our mouths.

You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city
Inside us, and inside us

There go all the cars we have driven
And seen, there are all the people

We know and have known, there
Are all the places that are

But which used to be as well. This is where
They went. They did not disappear.

We each take a piece
Through the eye and through the ear.

It's loud inside us, in there, and when we speak
In the outside world

We have to hope that some of that sound
Does not come out, that an arm

Not reach out
In place of the tongue.