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Visual Voices, a touring exhibit organized by the VSA Michigan/State Organization on Arts and Disability

Visual Voices: "Sailboat" by Paul WaisanenHANCOCK, MI – “Visual Voices,” a touring exhibit of work by 36 artists organized by the VSA Michigan/State Organization on Arts and Disability, is featured at the Finlandia University Gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock, January 19 to February 11, 2012.

An opening reception for the exhibit will take place at the gallery Thursday, January 26, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Artwork by Christina Coon and Paul Waisanen, both of Hancock, are included in the juried exhibit. Coon and Waisanen are long-time participants in a VSA-sponsored art class at Hancock’s Oak House, a group home for individuals with mild to moderate developmental disabilities.

Participants of the Oak House art class, with local drummer Bill Anderson, will present a drumming performance at the exhibit’s opening reception.

Visual Voices: "Ducks Swimming in Water" by Christina CoonsStarted 20 years ago, the Oak House’s VSA-sponsored art class aims to teach skills, provide opportunities for creative expression, and encourage socialization. The classes are instructed by area artists who use a variety of media, including visual arts, crafts, music, and drumming. Copper Country Mental Health is also a significant partner in presenting the class.

Artwork from across the state was submitted for this year’s annual Emerging Artists’ Touring Exhibit, which is open to children and adults with disabilities. The Visual Voices exhibit is on an 11-month tour throughout Michigan at venues including galleries, libraries, conferences, festivals, and other public spaces. It completes its tour this April.

Work is chosen for the exhibit based on quality and to showcase a variety of media and artistic techniques. Visual Voices was juried by Amy Armand, Kathryn Knapp, and Brenda Oelbaum: three individuals that have spent their careers contributing to the advancement of arts and arts education in Michigan.

“I was honored to serve on the jury for Visual Voices,” says juror Kathryn Knapp. “The passion and imagination shown by these artists is awesomely inspiring and wonderfully refreshing. Visual Voices is an amazing reminder of the importance of creative communication and illustrates so perfectly why the arts are essential to the continued development of us all!”

VSA Michigan is a member of the network of VSA, the International Organization on Art and Disability. VSA is an international nonprofit organization founded 35 years ago by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith to help create a society where people with disabilities learn through, participate in, excel in, and enjoy the arts.

Nationwide and internationally, VSA provides educators, parents, and artists with resources to support arts programming in schools and communities, showcases the accomplishments of artists with disabilities, and promotes increased access to the arts for all people. Each year, 7 million people participate in VSA programs.

“It is the artists who are the champions of VSA’s story,” notes Kennedy Smith in her introduction to “Imagination: A Celebration of the Arts and Disability,” a VSA International Organization on Arts and Disability publication. “Certainly an organization can provide access, but it takes people of courage, determination, and grit to cross over the threshold, climb onto a stage, stare into a canvas, and start creating.”

VSA Michigan supports programs and services across the state. VSA Michigan is funded through grants from national VSA under an award from the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education, from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, and through contributions from corporations, foundations, and individuals.

“Visual Voices” is on display at the Finlandia University Gallery through February 11, 2012.

The Finlandia University Gallery is in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy Street, Hancock. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Saturday 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., or by appointment.

Photo Cutlines:

Christina Coons, “Ducks Swimming in Water”

Paul Waisanen, “Sailboat”