Local Organizations Offer Creative Opportunities

American Jazz Museum

“Trane of Thought” by Juliette Hemingway.

Art inspired by music is bringing awareness to autism at the American Jazz Museum.

“Spectrum: Autism, Art and Music” is a groundbreaking exhibition of works by Denver-based artist Juliette Hemingway and her 13-year-old son, Javari Eugene-Poet Chase.

The works bring together two important aspects to the artists’ lives —  jazz and autism.

Hemingway describes painting jazz-themed works as an opportunity to portray the ebbs and flows of life that we experience when listening to jazz. Also prominent in the paintings are blue images, which serve a double duty of representing autism and allowing the works to remain race neutral.

Javari picked up his mother’s love and talent for art. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Deficit Disorder three years ago, but hasn’t let it stop him from being a renaissance man of sorts — working in film-making, architecture and animation.

“Spectrum” runs through April 30 in the American Jazz Museum Changing Gallery.

Autism Works

During a CrAzY Art at Autism Works, students had a blast using squirt bottles to spray paint onto a banner

At its heart, Autism Works is a place for children with autism and their families to learn, grow and connect together.

Often, that happens through classes — some of which have a reputation for being crazy, creative and fun. That’s certainly true of CrAzY Art, a summer class offered in the month of July.

Kids from kindergarten through 12th grade go to the Autism Works facility in Liberty, Mo., for two hours in the afternoon and create.

“They really work with all different mediums,” explained Dessarey Klarlund, executive director of Autism Works. “And it’s not your typical art projects. We make robots out of wood. We mix shaving cream with food coloring and do all sorts of messy, fun things.”

And it’s through that mess that meaning is found.

Brenda Wilper, mom of two boys who attend CrAzY Art, said she has seen her boys begin to engage socially with others while creating art and beam joyfully at the completion of their art.

Klarlund said she believes that everyone is creative. And, at Autism Works, children are given the opportunity to explore that creativity in an environment that is comfortable for them.

Registration for CrAzY Art usually begins in June.

Visit the Autism Works website for more information about the organization, other classes offered and class registration.

Camp Encourage

A counselor and peer model camper share a silly moment while spending time in the cabin with their group. (photo by Tyler Wirken)

Social growth, independence and self-esteem in youth with autism is the mission of Camp Encourage.

Four overnight camp sessions that are expected to serve roughly 180 campers in 2017 bring together everything that is fun about camp in a nurturing and sensory-sensitive environment.

“Camp Encourage provides an accepting, loving atmosphere and is well-staffed with quality, well-trained counselors, activity facilitators, medical personnel and behavior specialists,” said education director Kelly N. Lee.

Activities like horseback riding, ropes course activities (zipline), swimming, fishing and campfires paired with s’mores and singing give kids a taste of camp activities that they might not otherwise get to experience.

Also on the schedule are many choice activities that allow for students to shape their days based on their interests. Among those, the arts have a strong presence. Past activities have included art, music, dance, theater, improv comedy and so much more.

The list of reasons Lee can offer for the benefits of incorporating art into camp is long. Increased engagement, enhanced ability to interpret and respond to the expressions, emotions and body movements of others, greater fine motor skills, increased motivation and an increase in the student’s sense of pride in their creativity are just a few.

“Allowing for creativity and self-expression in a structured yet safe and comfortable environment promotes many of the aforementioned benefits,” Lee said. “Everyone should be able to access such opportunities — especially those with ASD that we love so dearly.”

Camp Encourage takes place on the grounds of the Tall Oaks Conference Center in Linwood, Kan. Camps, ranging from two to four days, will be offered in March, June, July and October 2017. Spots fill up quickly. Visit campencourage.org for registration information.

The Musical Autist

Equal rights to fine arts is the vision for The Musical Autist.

The Musical Autist is a national organization that helps organize sensory friendly concerts in cities across the country. Locally, an annual concert comes together with the help of Kansas City Metro Music Therapists and the Kansas City Alumnae chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota.

The concert is held in a recital format at the Central United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Mo., and is truly a labor of love. Volunteer musicians from the groups that organize the event perform a wide variety of music — classical, jazz and even Broadway tunes.

“What a great way to combine forces to bring great music to more people in the Kansas City Metro community,” said Rachelle Norman, president of the Kansas City Metro Music Therapists Association.

During the concert, individuals with sensory sensitivities have access to noise-canceling headphones and fidgets and are invited to enjoy the music in whatever way feels good to them.

“In this environment, we accept things that are not typical at concerts,” Norman said. “We say at the beginning that hand clapping is allowed. It is totally cool to express your enjoyment. And for those who might experience sensory overload, there is a place for people to get away.”

Norman said the goal is to meet a need in the community that was not being met — making music available to those who might not have access otherwise.

“Everybody should have access to the highest level of music,” she said. “It’s who we are as humans.”

The fifth annual Sensory Friendly Concert will be at 2 p.m., April 22 at Central United Methodist Church, 5144 Oak St. Kansas City, Mo. 64112. Suggested $5 donation per family.

Lied Center

The Paludan Sisters (photo by Drake Sorey)

Offering diverse, accessible and world-class performances was the goal for a special Lied Center 2016 – 2017 season project.

With the help of a grant and as part of a project titled Performing Arts By, For and About People with Disabilities, the Lied Center was able to line up exceptional artists who also offered opportunities for the public to learn about disabilities in the arts.

“Since the Lied Center opened in 1993, we have been committed to presenting programs that address the challenges of marginalized populations in a meaningful and positive manner,” said Derek Kwan, executive director of the Lied Center of Kansas. “It is our responsibility to serve as an organization and gathering space that is welcoming to all.”

Programs offered included comedian Josh Blue, Axis Dance, Blind Boys of Alabama and The Paludan Sisters present The Music of the Mind.

The Paludan Sisters were the most recent performers, taking the stage Jan. 27 and 28. Karin and Kirsten Paludan, Lawrence’s own acclaimed singing sisters and KU graduates, created a welcoming environment for children on the autism spectrum and their families. Children were encouraged to interact with and react to music from a wide variety of genres including a cappella, aria, opera, Americana, indie rock, beloved classics and beyond. Each event was divided into three sections — listening time, percussion time and conducting time.

Karin, who has traveled the country sharing her music and has seen it deeply impact lives, said the goal of their program at Lied was to give families and children a safe space to interact with music. She believes that music helps us discover the artist inside us all.

To view upcoming Lied Center performances, visit lied.ku.edu

The Coterie Theatre

The Coterie offers a variety of summer programs that are aimed at making theater accessible and fun for all kids. (photo by J. Robert Schraeder and courtesy of the Coterie Theatre)

William Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage.”

The kids in preschool through high school from all across the Metro who take classes at The Coterie Theatre understand a little about this. So often, the skills we learn in theater help us in our everyday lives.

This is why The Coterie works so hard to make theater accessible to everyone.

“We are inclusive, never elitist and never excluding anyone,” said Amanda Kibler, education director for The Coterie Theatre.

Kibler works with parents to determine what kind of support a student might need in the classroom to ensure each child has the best experience possible. The reason behind her passion for accessible theater is the impact theater has had on her own life.

“Theater brought me out of fear,” Kibler said. “It’s amazing to see how theater changes kids, gives them confidence.”

She also recognizes theater as an excellent tool to learn how to socialize, make eye contact and recognize facial expressions.

Michael and Kari Smith, whose son Hayden has been taking classes at The Coterie for two years, have noticed the good influence that theater has had on their son’s life.

The Smiths weren’t entirely surprised that Hayden took to theater. They remember him as a toddler repeating Thomas The Train stories with a British accent.

“Hayden is very theatrical, dramatic,” Kari noted. “He hit the ground running with theater.”

While not all kids have such an obvious affinity for an art form, Kari encourages other parents to find creative outlets for their kids.

“I think sometimes we push academics so much that we forget to let kids be creative,” she said.

Classes are offered through The Coterie Theatre year-round. Class schedules can be found online at thecoterie.org

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Self-expression, exploration and communication through visual arts is the aim of ArtReach at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

ArtReach is the product of an eleven-year collaboration between Kemper and the Center for Child Health and Development at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Through this partnership, Kemper Museum offers free workshops designed for all children, with and without special needs.

“The hands-on workshops focus on offering each child a positive and empowered interaction with art in Kemper Museum exhibitions,” said Jessica Thompson-Lee, Museum Educator: Youth & Family Programs.

Each session includes workshops for ages 6 – 8 and ages 9 –12. Students spend time learning about a specific artist and his/her inspiration, practice working with a variety of artistic mediums and create their own original works of art.

“For the upcoming ArtReach sessions this spring, students will be challenged to create art that reflects concepts that exist within upcoming exhibitions such as culture, family and social justice,” Thompson-Lee said. “Participants will also explore how to use both traditional and non-traditional art-making materials to push the boundaries of the artistic process.”

Workshops are held in the Meeting Room of the Kemper Museum, a quiet space selected for the benefit of students who might work best in a calm and enclosed environment.

Workshops are free and all supplies are provided. Find out how to reserve your child’s spot at www.kemperart.org/kids-families

Upcoming ArtReach Events Include:

  • March 4 – Digital Self-Portraits
  • March 18 – Exploring Non-Traditional Art Making Materials
  • April 1 – Family Box Art
  • April 15 – Art Terrariums
  • April 29 – Sound Sculptures
  • May 6 – Weaving Project

About The Author: KC Studio

KC Studio

KC Studio covers the performing, visual, cinematic and literary arts, and the artists, organizations and patrons that make Kansas City a vibrant center for arts and culture.


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