Inclusivity through creativity: Nonprofit and museum partner to create art

Katelyn Latture

This Saturday an inclusive, artistic experience took place at the Kentucky Museum. VSA Kentucky, a nonprofit organization that provides artistic and educational opportunities for children and adults with disabilities, held one of its annual Side by Side Art classes at the museum.

Side by Side Art is one of many art programs conducted by VSA Kentucky. According to VSA’s website, “the Side by Side program is designed to offer a creative outlet for students, reinforce inclusiveness and positive self-image, and highlight the importance of arts education in the development of our young people.”

The event was held in one of the museum’s larger classrooms, and 21 school-age students with special needs were able to work alongside and collaborate with professional artist Suzanne Renfrow. This Saturday, the first lesson of the series, students worked with clay to make their own pottery.

Stacey Rose and her daughter have been involved in VSA Kentucky programs for at least eight years, Rose said. Her daughter, who is not verbal, has always been interested in color, she said.

The Saturday art classes run Feb. 16 to March 16 this year. During the last class on March 16, each student gets to work one on one, or side by side, with a community artist to collaborate on a special art piece.

“The time they work with the artist is always amazing,” Rose said.

An open-to-the-public exhibit goes up on April 13 and runs through June 29. The opening of the exhibit is followed with a reception where the students and their families can enjoy the artwork along with refreshments.

“My very favorite thing is the exhibit,” Lynne Ferguson, the Kentucky Museum’s artist-in-residence and one of the coordinators for the event, said.

Ferguson has worked full time for the Kentucky Museum for 14 years and has been able to see many students experience the Side by Side program. She said this is probably her favorite event the Kentucky Museum has each year.

The art classes and the exhibit affirm the students’ importance, Ferguson said. She said it widens the students’ community and helps them to grow and become more confident when they see their art displayed.

“Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves,” Delaire Rowe, the executive director of VSA Kentucky, said. She began working for VSA Kentucky after owning her own art studio and working as an adjunct professor of art at WKU, she said.

Both Ferguson and Rowe said the students and the parents are proud of the art the students create over the six weeks of classes.

“It’s another outlet of expression,” Rowe said.

The students will work with different media over the six weeks, and each student has a different favorite, Rowe said.

Heather Kessler has a daughter involved in the program, and she said her favorite part is that her daughter is able to have community and develop her love for art.

“We have a lot of great art around the house that she’s done over the years,” Kessler said.

The Side by Side Art program leaves a lasting impression on its students. One of their past students, Ferguson and Rowe said, went through the program, graduated from the University of Kentucky with an art degree and wants to return to VSA Kentucky as a teaching artist.

Rose’s daughter has some of her pictures from the program displayed in her bedroom at home, Rose said. She said the students seem to enjoy having the power to make their own choices, especially since most aspects of their lives are structured and based on routine.

Rose said the artists for Side by Side Art are “specifically wonderful job of being inclusive and accepting,” which is wonderful for the students’ families.

“I am very appreciative that there are people who are willing to do this year after year,” Kessler said.

Features reporter Katelyn Latture can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]