The hand-painted ornaments created by 24 young artists from across Tennessee at an MTSU workshop now adorn the special state tree standing alongside the 2013 National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., this holiday season.
The artists of VSA Tennessee, the state organization on arts and disability, joined a 90-year national tradition with their creative output at the Oct. 21 workshop, aided by MTSU speech and organizational communications students.
VSA Tennessee was founded at MTSU, and MTSU professor Lori Kissinger’s students regularly help with logistics for VSA events as part of her experiential learning classes.
In addition to this ornament workshop, the students have coordinated events like the February 2013 Tennessee VSA Young Soloist Competition and the fall 2012 “Golden Ratio Project,” an arts performance that traveled to Athens, Greece, for an international arts education exchange.
MTSU art education professor Bonnie Rushlow’s students, who’ve also worked with classes at the Tennessee School for the Blind on multiple projects, joined Kissinger’s students to facilitate the VSA artists’ work.
Along with the state tree ornaments for the nation’s capital, the VSA Tennessee artists prepared papier-mache masks to be displayed at Nashville’s Legislative Plaza in February and March to help kick off the 40th anniversary of the national VSA program, Kissinger said.
“I’m really glad my students could get involved,” Rushlow said with a smile as her class members rushed to serve as partners for the young artists turning clear acrylic globes, sequins, yarn, paint and tissue paper into works of art.
MTSU sophomore Josh McDaniel of Nashville was group leader for a team that made the papier-mache masks.
“We started getting things together last Wednesday … and got everything finished about 11:30 this morning,” said McDaniel, an accounting major and member of Kissinger’s EXL Fundamentals in Communications class. “We got it all together as it came along, but it looks like everybody’s enjoying themselves now.”
Every year, unique ornaments are made by everyday Americans to hang on the 56 trees – one for every U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia – that surround the national Christmas tree.
In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse to light a 48-foot fir tree decorated with 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white and green, as a local choir and a “quartet” from the U.S. Marine Band performed.
Ninety years later, the tree-lighting ceremony has become a family must-see, whether in person in Washington, D.C., or on TV in a special National Park Service and National Park Foundation program featuring entertainers from multiple genres. The 2013 tree-lighting ceremony was held Dec. 6.
Tennessee’s contribution stands among the inner circle of state trees surrounding the 2013 National Christmas Tree along the “Pathway of Peace” on the Ellipse in President’s Park in Washington, D.C.
The Pathway of Peace is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time daily through Wednesday, Jan. 1, according to the National Park Service.
Anne Pope, executive director of the Tennessee Arts Commission, noted that in addition to MTSU’s support for VSA Tennessee, the university hosts one of the largest arts education events in the nation — the commission’s annual “Creativity in Education Institute” for K-12 classroom teachers, arts specialists, teaching artists, principals and arts administrators.
“Some of the best funding we provide is helping VSA with its mission, and MTSU is a part of that,” Pope said before the workshop kicked off.
“This is really what MTSU’s about: working with the community,” added state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, who joined state Rep. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro, to welcome the young artists and their MTSU student assistants.
Tammy Moses of Sweetwater, Tenn., who volunteers with VSA Tennessee and attended the event with her son Sam and daughter Angela, said the organization has been a literal life-changer for her family.
Sam Moses, a pleasantly bashful 23-year-old in a red T-shirt and blond hair casually pulled back in an artist’s ponytail, is a high school graduate but lacked the communication skills he needed because of his autism.
He attended a VSA camp in 2009, where he and his classmates were asked to draw a picture and tell a story about it. That class unleashed Sam’s artistry as well as his voice, Tammy Moses said.
“His communication skills just … oh my goodness, they were so much better immediately after that one class,” she said, looking across the room as her son concentrated on finishing his Christmas ornament.
“Now he has five portfolios full of stories he’s created since 2009. He has 30 stories that are ready to be published. The arts have opened so many opportunities for him and all these kids. I hardly have the words to explain what a blessing VSA has been for him and our whole family.”
You can see more of Sam Moses’ work, as well as some of his siblings’ art, at www.facebook.com/MOSESARTIST.
For more information about VSA Tennessee, visit www.vsatn.org or contact Kissinger at email@example.com or 615-210-8819. You can learn more about the national Christmas tree at www.thenationaltree.org.
— Gina E. Fann (firstname.lastname@example.org)