VSA arts of Colorado is an independent, nonprofit group in Denver that has promoted the creation of art through programs for people with disabilities and for underserved populations for 30 years.
VSA arts of Colorado operates from a 1,500-square-foot studio/gallery in Denver’s largest arts district. Graffiti and vandalism are common in this Denver neighborhood, which is economically challenged and predominantly Hispanic.
Integrating with the community, VSA arts of Colorado has programs for community children, including afterschool, summer, and residency programs. Professional artists with disabilities teach the kids about art, focusing on creating it.
Creating a Mural (Street to Studio)
Through a grant from Subaru of America Foundation, VSA arts of Colorado gathered together young artists from the area – four graffiti artists, two teens with disabilities, and two other local teens – who were not involved in vandalism. The teens were taught printmaking from a professional printmaker, Melanie Yazzie, from the University of Colorado. They learned the basics, including how to use ink, rollers, and brayers with environmentally friendly, soy-based ink and dry paper.
The original intent was to teach the teens printmaking, utilizing the graffiti aesthetic in the prints. According to Damon McLeese, the director of the gallery, “The hope was simply to introduce a new set of skills to an already creative group of kids. Our goal is to change the way people interact using art as a medium. Many of the kids in this area do not get art in the school day, yet the drive to create is so strong. All of the kids we worked with are way past the ‘tagging’ stage and are legitimately interested in various art forms. From our perspective we would rather have them working on a print inside the building than a tag on the outside.”
As the project became their own, the teens developed the individual prints as a blueprint for a mural they wanted to create in the gallery. Exhibited to the public October 14, 2008, through November 28, 2008, their work is expected to be viewed by an estimated 1,000 to 3,000 people.
Other programs include a summer program for the local Boys & Girls Club, where participants work on an art project based on an upcoming gallery show. VSA arts of Colorado also offers adults with developmental disabilities a place to work in the studio on a regular basis.
VSA arts of Colorado is an affiliate of VSA arts, an international nonprofit with nearly five million disabled program participants each year. For more information on VSA arts of Colorado, go to www.accessgallery.org.