Visitors enjoying the National Christmas Tree and the “Pathway of Peace” on the Ellipse in President’s Park in Washington, D.C., this holiday season will find warm greetings on Tennessee’s state tree: cheerful “teapots” created by a dozen young Midstate artists with help from two classes of MTSU freshmen.
The National Christmas Tree and the 56 trees surrounding it, representing U.S. states and territories, will be on display through Jan. 1 after last week’s official tree-lighting ceremony.
Each state tree is adorned with ornaments created by its residents, and Tennessee’s ornament program, led for the fourth year by Borderless Arts Tennessee, formerly VSA Tennessee, and the Tennessee Arts Commission, was coordinated this year by two MTSU freshman organizational communication classes.
The artists — six students from the Tennessee School for the Blind and six members of Borderless Arts Tennessee’s “Teapot Diplomat Program” — created their masterpieces on a warm autumn day at MTSU’s Tom Jackson Building, encouraged by holiday music, stockings, sweaters and a visit from Santa Claus.
MTSU professor Lori Kissinger of the Department of Communication Studies, who also serves as director for Borderless Arts Tennessee, noted that junior and senior students coordinated the ornament workshop since 2014 as part of an experiential learning class focusing on event planning, nonprofits and fundraising.
This year, two groups of freshman students in Kissinger’s EXL Fundamentals of Communication courses tackled the project.
“Since the Comm 2200 class is a 55-minute class, neither class could stay for the entire ornament-making session with the artists,” Kissinger said. “The students had to communicate across classes to know how to tag-team responsibilities for when one class had to leave and the next class would take over the project.”
That challenge would’ve been plenty for most people. Add on a single in-class opportunity for brainstorming ideas, plus the freshmen’s lack of experience with both event planning and people with disabilities, and the afternoon could’ve quickly turned frustrating for artists and students alike.
Instead, the students planned and carried off a holiday arts event that ended with satisfied artists, impressed friends and family members, and a stack of bright holiday ornaments to mark the occasion and ready for the Tennessee tree in Washington.
“The teacher who brought students from the Tennessee School for the Blind said that she felt this was the most relaxed and comfortable ornament projects in which they had participated, and they have participated in all of them,” Kissinger explained.
“One mother approached me and said that she wanted to compliment the student who worked with her son. She said that the student did an excellent job of communicating with her son and got him to participate in ways she did not think was possible.”
Borderless Arts Tennessee is the statewide organization on arts and disability that was established at MTSU in 2001. It’s also an affiliate of VSA, the international organization on arts and disabilities founded in 1974 by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith and formerly known as Very Special Arts.
Yvette Cowden of Nashville, who’s worked with Borderless Arts Tennessee as a teaching artist for several years, once again provided the artistic direction for this year’s ornament project. Each of the ornaments is a tiny teacup or teapot filled with pinecones, ribbons, rolled paper, feathers, snowflakes and beads, protected by and viewed through a plastic globe as it hangs on the Tennessee tree.
Kissinger’s students regularly help with logistics for Borderless Arts Tennessee events as part of her experiential learning classes, coordinating events like the annual Tennessee Young Soloist Competition and the “Golden Ratio Project,” an international arts education exchange performance.
The “Teapot Diplomats” program teaches individuals with disabilities new art techniques and encourages them to use their creations to raise awareness of the talents and abilities of people with disabilities.
— Gina E. Fann (firstname.lastname@example.org)