When I’m not spitting venom, verbally dropping trou, and making off-color jokes in a never-ending quest to de-putzify the world by poking sticks in the eyes of the politically correct and other assorted sanctimonious asshats, I do a little work for a statewide organization called VSA-Florida. At one time, the initials stood for “Very Special Arts,” now it’s just the letters.
VSA’s programs provide arts experiences — instruction, making art, performing, etc. — to disabled persons, mostly students. The agency arranges in-school residencies for arts instructors specially trained to work with students with disabilities, community arts classes for persons of all ages with disabilities, on-line instruction, and more.
The specific disability is irrelevant: VSA works with the deaf, blind, orthopedically handicapped, and developmentally delayed. At one time — bear with me, we’re getting there — this latter population was known as “mentally retarded.” But the words “retard” and “retarded” have become truly unfortunate terms of denigration and cruelty, in part precisely because they’ve been adopted by young people who toss it around at one another as though they were some kind of knee-slapping funny.
They ain’t. In fact, in this business, we refer to the R-Word.
And today, March 6, 2013, is the fifth annual Day of Awareness of the Campaign to Spread the Word to End the Word. Organizations across the country have sprung up to encourage people to discontinue usage of a term that causes a terrible amount of pain and sadness to a population which doesn’t deserve it. My idea for a slogan was, “Don’t be an A-Hole — Stop using the R-Word.” (They didn’t adopt it.)
Last year VSA Florida partnered with Special Olympics Florida, the amazing program that organizes athletic activities for persons with developmental delays. VSA shows up at Special Olympics events and conducts on-site arts activities with the athletes — making a banner, choreographing a dance, establishing a drum circle, etc. — to include in the Olympic Village experience. On Sunday we set up at Traz Powell Stadium in North Miami and worked with dozens of delighted athletes on the banner you see here, which is about 8 feet by 5 feet. On March 30th, we’ll be in John I Leonard High School in Greenacres, Palm Beach County, making another banner, and on April 6th, we’ll be on site at Miami–Dade Kendall with a dance/movement program.
The difference between persons with developmental delays and me — and you — is one damn chromosome. But the difference an arts experience can make for this engaging population is an entire universe of wonder, delight, and achievement. Which is something else we have in common.
Wanna help? Send me an email at Squathole@gmail.com. It’ll change your life, too.
And here’s ExpressionbyLee.com, web site of the artist who coordinated the project last Sunday.