The performing arts provide an essential avenue of growth and independence in the education and careers of persons with disabilities. The Adrienne Arsht Center implements various inclusive programs, some of which have been recognized nationally, that are designed to integrate the creative arts into educational and community programs for persons with a wide range of special needs. One of these programs – created for teens and adults with special needs – culminated with a performance at the Center on Wednesday, June 24.
Over the past few months, in partnership with VSA arts of Florida, the Center arranged for residencies with a performing artist for clients at United Cerebral Palsy of South Florida, Mac Town, The Hope Center, and the Center for Independent Living. During these residencies, teens and adults who use the services of the selected centers participated in music and movement classes led by specially trained teaching artists. Each group of participants created a final performance piece under the guidance of the teaching artist to highlight the experiences they had in class. These pieces were then performed for their peers at the Adrienne Arsht Center in the Carnival Studio Theater with a full production and technical staff, offering students an authentic live theater experience as both audience members and performers – and for many, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The special needs programming for teens and adults offered by the Center for the past three years is an offshoot of a program presented in partnership with VSA arts of Florida and the Miami-Dade County Public School (MDCPS) system to provide performing arts based workshops in inclusive K – 12 classrooms. Like the teen and adult programming, this school-based program is made up of nine one-hour sessions with a performing artist and a culminating final performance. Many of the participating students from various schools around Miami-Dade County enjoyed their first visit to the Center through this program and, more importantly, experienced their first opportunity to perform for a live audience. VSA arts of Florida follows each of the performances with a debriefing session with the teaching artists and a two-hour professional development workshop.
“The performance outcomes that result from the residencies are an inspiration to the students, teachers and community members who attend. They are a reminder of the value of all members of our communities and the power of the arts to bring diverse groups of people together in a supportive and educational environment where everyone can be successful,” said Deanna Costa, Adrienne Arsht Center’s Director of Education.
The Center has been recognized at the state and national level for its excellence in accessible arts education programming as well as for leadership in the area of arts access for persons with disabilities in South Florida. The unique partnership between the Center, the school system and VSA arts of Florida has brought together organizations and personnel in a way that maximizes the resources and strengths of each, resulting in more effective and sustainable programming. This innovative approach earned the Arsht Center the 2008 VSA Arts National Awards for Excellence for Outstanding Community Partner. The State of Florida also found this programming to be exemplary and gave the Center the New Initiative Award from the “Recognizing Best Practices in Access” Awards Program, sponsored by the Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and VSA Arts of Florida. Additionally, Costa, who created the framework for this project, received the Arts for a Complete Education/Florida Alliance for Arts Education (ACE/FAAE) Business Leader of the Year award for her efforts in spearheading the collaborative efforts between the participating organizations.
Since the program’s beginning in May 2007, more than 1,500 children and adults from all over the county and of varying disabilities have participated in classes and performances. The program employs local teaching artists who have been specially trained by VSA arts of Florida to work with the diverse populations and provide quality experience in the exploration of music, dance and theater. The teaching artists were thrilled to have this opportunity to be connected to the Center, to participate in this community-wide inclusive residency experience, and to get connected with the other teaching artists to share their experiences and practical knowledge. This collaboration between the Adrienne Arsht Center and VSA arts of Florida is a showcase of the impact of well-planned residency programs that bring teaching artists, MDCPS, and community organizations together for remarkable and sustainable results.
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