The Arts Alive Institute: Reaching all learners with art

VSA Arts' Arts Alive Institute brings together artists and educators from across the state to discuss best practices for using the arts to reach everyone in the classroom

You've probably heard that you can't get a free lunch anymore. Well, you can! And not only can you get a free lunch, but if you're a teacher, you can get continuing professional education credit as well as skills to assist you in working with students who are handicapped or bilingual just by registering for and attending the Arts Alive Institute: A Bi-Lingual Inclusive Arts Exchange on Tuesday, June 19. And it won't cost you anything but your time.

The Arts Alive Institute is sponsored by the Texas branch of VSA Arts, a national program affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that exists "to promote the creative power in people with disabilities by reducing the barriers to the arts," says Celia Hughes, executive director for VSA Arts of Texas. The Lone Star arm of the organization, which has affiliates in all 50 states and in 60 countries, spun out of a local group called Access Arts Austin, which was founded in 1996 to provide audio description for the blind as well as sign interpretation and captioning for the deaf. "In 1999, the Washington, D.C., branch of VSA approached Access and asked us if we would be interested in becoming VSA's affiliate for the state of Texas," says Hughes, and since then, VSA has sponsored professional development programs like Artworks! and the Texas Cultural Access Initiative; performances like the Actual Lives Performance Project, which was recognized in the Chronicle's "Best of Austin" issue for its theatrical activism; and educational programs, of which Arts Alive is a part.

"Arts Alive involves sending teaching artists into elementary schools to do artist residence throughout a semester," says program coordinator Emily Hurd. "The artist goes in once a week and works with kids doing music, drama, dance, and visual arts activities. And that's really fun because it gives the kids the opportunity to experience something new, outside of what their classroom teacher does, as well as allow the classroom teacher to see another educator, a teaching artist, who might have new ideas about how to use the arts to reach all learners.

"This year, the culminating event of Arts Alive is the Arts Alive Institute, where we're bringing together artists and educators throughout the city and state to discuss best practices and ideas for using the arts in targeting English-language learners." The institute will include presentations on storytelling in the classroom, creative writing in bilingual classrooms, a workshop by Dr. Joni L. Jones/Omi Osun Olomo on theatre for social change, and observation of an expressive arts laboratory. The institute is open to all interested parties, but it's structured especially for teachers.

The Arts Alive Institute – Austin: A Bi-Lingual Inclusive Arts Exchange will be held Tuesday, June 19, 8:30am-4:30pm, at the Sri Atmananda School, 4100 Red River. For more information, call 573-3071 or visit

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Arts Alive Institute, VSA Arts of Texas, Celia Hughes, Emily Hurd

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