MTSU speech and dance students helped to mark the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities Dec. 3 by bringing together artists from around the world to celebrate and encourage peace.
Their projects, which showcase both visual arts and dance, also are intended to honor the late arts education activist Jean Kennedy Smith, founder of VSA, an international organization on arts and disabilities, and her work toward peace accords as U.S. ambassador to Ireland in the 1990s.
Students in Department of Communication Studies professor Lori Kissinger‘s Fundamentals of Communication courses collected works of art from creators in Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, North and South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and United Arab Emirates to become “Pieces of Peace,” a digital postcard.
The special dance performance, “Peace,” made its inaugural appearance at http://borderlessartstn.org, the website for Borderless Arts Tennessee, on Dec. 3. Borderless Arts is a statewide organization supporting arts programs for people with disabilities that was established at MTSU in 2001.
Kissinger, who also serves as Borderless Arts’ executive director, said these new efforts refer back to a 2015 international arts project honoring Smith and VSA on the organization’s 40th anniversary.
It included a digital “scrapbook” of world arts experiences and a massive quilt, compiled of participants’ squares and assembled at MTSU, presented to Smith at the U.S. Capitol.
The “Pieces of Peace” postcard, designed by MTSU media arts alumna Samantha Kaviyakone, incorporates 28 artists’ images and a “teapot” theme often used by Borderless Arts and its associated groups as a “message to the world,” the professor said.
It is featured at http://borderlessartstn.org, and it’s set to be included at the UN’s website for the day, www.un.org/en/observances/day-of-persons-with-disabilities.
Each artist’s work represents their view of peace. Each student also spoke with an artist and made a presentation on the artwork — all done remotely for Kissinger’s virtual classroom — to add experiential learning, via their collaboration and problem-solving work, to their courses’ public speaking requirements. Each could also submit artwork for the project.
Two of Kissinger’s speech students, freshman biochemistry major Verina Rezk of Smyrna, Tennessee, and junior homeland security major Tyler Walker of Manchester, Tennessee, created two of the 28 works of art. Nashville artist, musician and event planner Morgan Vice created another representing Borderless Arts.
“A lot of thought went into the design for this piece,” Kissinger said of the digital postcard. “Every element and detail — including the incorporation of the teapot, as well as the overall message — all have special meaning.”
The teapot in the postcard’s center includes artwork from each of the 12 partner organizations, “representing how their efforts mix together to pour out a unified message,” she continued, explaining that the teapot imagery originated in 2015 with Charlie Kellett of the U.S. State Department.
“During his work in the Peace Corps, he witnessed the serving of tea as a way to bring people together. Whenever he saw people using their talents for a common good, he called it ‘Teapot Diplomacy,’” Kissinger said.
“He had dubbed our 2015 quilt as ‘Teapot Diplomacy’ and later gave permission to Borderless Arts Tennessee to name a program ‘Teapot Diplomats.’”
Along with Borderless Arts, this year’s participating organizations include Alfan Alkas Association Egypt, Fann4All-Saudi Arabia, VSA Singapore, Kuwait, Art for All Center United Arab Emirates, arts4all Florida, Arts For All Kentucky, ArtMix Indiana, Arts Access North Carolina, ARTS ACCESS South Carolina, and Art Spark Texas.
The Borderless Arts “Peace” dance also was featured in the MTSU Dance Theatre’s Fall Dance Concert, which was presented online Nov. 21. It’s available to watch here.
A grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission allowed MTSU dancers to work remotely with guest artist Silva Laukkanen, Borderless Arts and Art Spark Texas this fall to create their dance performance.
MTSU senior dance major Jennifer James of Murfreesboro, who also serves as Borderless Arts’ artistic director, guided the university and Borderless Arts groups.
Laukkanen, who is director of integrated dance for the Austin-based Art Spark Texas, called her experience with the MTSU and Borderless Arts teams “wonderful” and a “strange juxtaposition” of new opportunities to collaborate, create and dance together with dancers of all abilities.
“On the plus side, I’m getting more used to this virtual platform, and I recognize the accessibility and what it has done to break isolation for people with disabilities,” Laukkanen wrote in a blog post on Art Spark Texas’ website.
“There will be a virtual component in our work from this point on, but I’m also looking forward to being in-person in the dance and creative spaces with people.”
For more information about Borderless Arts Tennessee, visit https://borderlessartstn.org. To learn more about the programs in the Department of Communication Studies in MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts, visit www.mtsu.edu/communication.
— Gina E. Fann (firstname.lastname@example.org)