Art for those with challenges

Mar 20, 2015

Nancy Kranzberg

We've heard of wheelchair basketball, tennis and ice hockey played by those with legs that don't function and we've heard of the Special Olympics.

In the arts there are wonderful organizations who help those with physical and mental disabilities to be a part of the St. Louis art scene.

The Riverfront Times had a terrific article entitled "Thespians On Wheels: Joan Lipkin's Disability Project is on a Roll" written by Aimee Levitt. Levitt says, "There are many ways to fight for social change: marching, shouting, stripping. Joan Lipkin has tried them all."

"Lipkin has always preferred the theater. On this sunny morning she's about to launch the 14th season of the Disability Project, known as the DP. It is one of the few theater groups in the country that produces original shows and promotes disability rights. Under Lipkin's direction, actors have put together a collection of sketches based on experiences from their own lives. Once an audience sees what life is like for a disabled person, Lipkin believes, they'll think and behave differently."

The article also says that disability theater, according to Lipkin can be related to her feminist bent since both disabled people and women are often defined by their bodies.

Joan Lipkin has received numerous awards and honors for her unique work in this specialized area of theater arts.

Olivia Lahs-Gonzales, director of the Sheldon Art Galleries, has had several exhibitions at the Children's Art Gallery, a gallery within the art galleries, which hi-lighted the works of children with autism and another with children with muscular dystrophy. She is currently planning a collaboration with VSA Missouri for next year.

VSA Missouri, headed up by artist Gina Alvarez, is an inclusive organization for both folks with and without disabilities which allows access to both the visual and literary arts. VSA stands for vision, strength and access and has its first home located in the "artsy" Maplewood area. The organization has branches all over the country and is actually international. Our local group has programs throughout Missouri and publishes an anthology with beautiful writings, poetry and works of art. The titles of the anthologies are almost as intriguing as the works within. One is entitled "Turning the Clocks Forward Again" and another is entitled, "Where We Can Read the Wind".

Another wonderful group that offers programs in the arts to those who are physically and mentally challenged is Variety, the Children's Charity. The organization has a children's choral group which performs throughout our region and has a very innovative Children's Theater.

Variety Children's Theater, according to Executive Director, Jan Albus, is an educational program that has been lauded both locally and nationally as a program unique only to St. Louis Variety with a model currently considered by three other cities: Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

The theater services three types of Variety Children: Those in the cast--the average is 15 very talented kids with disabilities and 15 able bodied, talented child actors; those in the teen intern program-average 10 mentored by the designers and directors  of the production  and those in the audience whose teachers have received teacher's packets to guide them in the process--average 1232 per performance.

This year's production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid" told of Ariel, a mermaid so fascinated with life on land  that's she's willing to make a huge sacrifice for a pair of legs and last year when Variety produced "Peter Pan" and one of the physically challenged little girls flew with Peter Pan there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

The productions are first class with such leaders as Director Lara Teeter, a Muny favorite and Broadway entertainer, a full orchestra and lavish costumes and choreography.

What wonderful programs we have here in St. Louis to hi-light the artistic talents of one and all.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years on numerous arts related boards.