DEAF, INC. hosted the first Deaf Visual Arts Festival.
Not only did they do an AMAZING job coordinating and making everything happen – they did it amidst down pours, lightening, and flood warnings. And they were all like “we will make it work” and they did. I really have never since such a hardworking, collaborative, easy going, down to earth community based and driven organization. What a difference it can make to have committed staff and dedicated volunteers. It was such a joy to witness.
So Kudos and big hand waves to them all. Most especially Tony Nitko. Tony was super humble and just doing the good work for the greater good but I’m sure it is his vision and his heart that made this all come together. Thank you, Tony. Kudos to Dr. Thomas Horejes, the director of DEAF, Inc. He runs a wonderful organization and im sure he played a huge role in getting sponsors, making it all possible, and moving things forward. I can see that both DEAF, Inc and Greater St. Louis Association of the Deaf (GSLAD) work for commUNITY building and that goes a long way for the greater good.
If you have never been to Greater St. Louis Association of the Deaf, you will want to go. It’s a great Deaf club. A very large building with a huge meeting room – that was used for the artists’ booths and another large room that has a big Bar and pool table etc. DEAF, Inc. had a huge lovely tent for the performers and presenters for this festival but due to the ongoing down pour they had relocate the stage and chairs inside – moving a pool table and many other things – climbing ladder to unhang the banner and move to the new location all while setting up equipment. I didn’t see a sour face amongst anyone. They were all like a well-oiled machine. The kitchen volunteers (yes GSLAD has a large kitchen) worked all day cooking food for lunch and dinner. There was a huge crowd throughout the day – the flow from the exhibiting booth area to buy artworks – into the social / performance space went smoothly. Volunteers to do registration, to give out water bottles to the exhibiting artists, to watch booths, to volunteering to drive someone (me) who forgot their banner back to the hotel (thank you Jason!), really on and on – I could list all the amazing things everyone did to make the first Deaf Visual Arts Festival a huge success. I hope ya all get some well-deserved rest and THANK YOU AGAIN.
Changing Hearts Through the Arts – I have always believed that we can change hearts through the arts and that is more and more self-evident when attending these festivals and when tons and tons of individuals approach a booth and look around until their eyes fall upon an artwork that speaks to them and then they ask the artists about it and they start to share how they connect with the work. I can not tell you the value of this – it is priceless – even if the person doesn’t feel they can buy the artwork – their connection to it is real and goes such a long way to validating the Deaf experience and Deaf way of life.
A few examples from Deaf Visual Arts Festival:
Snapshot 1: Just a short time into the opening of the festival – I went to look at some Hamsa tiles by De’VIA Surdist Ellen Mansfield as I had seen them earlier while she was setting up and though I might buy one and when i return a wee bit later – ta da they were already sold. Blink and you miss it at the DVAF in St. Louis.
Snapshot 2: David Call was chatting with a man who had two young sons with him – as David was flipping through his portfolio of works – the man noticed something and asked David to go back so David went back until the man signed “that one” and David Call began to explain about the artwork honoring Andrew Foster – the man said “I know. I am Nigerian.” Andrew Foster is a Black Deaf American who founded over 30 Deaf Schools in West Africa. He tragically died in a plane crash in Rwanda as he was taking a flight to go home to Michigan to be with his family for Christmas. David and this man discussed the various symbols in this artwork as his two young sons playfully hung off of each other and patiently waited and watching. It was priceless. (to see David Call explaining this artwork The Andrew’s Baobab Tree go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2Pz04_lS6o)
Snapshot 3: While I was giving a presentation on the bridge from De’VIA to Surdism, many people were nodding their heads in recognition of a shared too-common experience of the Deaf-world – the experience of surviving oralism (education system that denies the use of signing). St. Louis being home to three Deaf oral schools means most everyone in the room identified with some of the De’VIA artworks being shown. This recognition is affirming and liberating – getting the truth out to the public is validating and transformative. For Hearing newbies in the audience – their jaws drop “really! That stuff happened and happens!” Yep and for the Deaf folks – to know others see that as uncool and bad is very liberating. And of course, the Affirmation artwork makes us all feel good and the visual testimonies of peaceful resistance – the various parades, and sitins, and social media campaigns – all using art for social justice – made them feel proud.
My favorite moment was probably when the artwork by Alex Martianov on the cover of Paddy Ladd’s book, Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood was discussed. I asked the audience what the U shaped hand on the ear of the person signified – they responded “that the person is Deaf” yep. Then I asked “whose hand do you think it is?” and they thought a bit and right away one person signed “God’s” and I said “yep so the image is communicating that we were made Deaf by God and that is it” and they nodded their heads and said “yes” and “right” and “true.” This view of us being meant to be or become Deaf and it’s a blessing is really what Deafhood is about and that consciousness of “its good to be Deaf” has really been transforming our communities. Folks who don’t believe in God, generally do believe we are meant to be this way – “sign it loud – we Deaf and Proud.”) Thank you Paddy for making the self-evident clear.
Snapshot 4: Nancy Rourke shared a powerful experience she had with one attendee to the DVAF – the person pointed at Nancy’s LOVE poster and shared that her boyfriend had presented her with the same L.O.V.E. poster and said “I want you to have this. I want you to never forget that I love you.” She accepted it gladly and shortly after that he died of an unexpected heart attack at 28 years old. Imagine this. The woman then wrote on the back the date her boy friend had given her the visual gift of his unending love and what he had said to her so she would indeed never forget. Of course Nancy cried upon seeing this true story. And when she retold the story to a few of us – we all also started to cry with one person signing “he knew. somehow the boyfriend must have know he was going to die.” yes, goosebumps.
ART is powerful – PERIOD.
It changes hearts better, faster, deeper, and longer than any medicine I know of.
Snapshot 5: Randy Pituk had a booth at DVAF – ya hoo. I can not tell u how happy this makes me. Randy is a GREAT painter and mixed media artist – he is also just a super sweet and humble guy. Everyone who knows Randy from St. Louis stopped by his booth and said “your art?” or “your pictures?” or “you do?” in shock. They didn’t know this side of randy – he has a BFA and he is SKILLED. Anyways, in addition to be hopping happy that Randy is painting and has launched his wehttp://pitukstudio.com/bsite and sold a bunch of paintings at DVAF and will come to Spectrum II – pretty pleassssssseeeeeee. The snapshot moment I want to share is when a policeman came over and was studying one of Randy’s artworks. It’s a pow pow piece about US life and the oppressed. It’s a controversial piece so I wasn’t quite sure how the cop was gonna read it. He called over a volunteer interpreter and
asked Randy “is this your work?”
cop: “can you explain it to me?”
Cop: “is it for sale?”
S O L D
Wow – so nice to witness – how this policeman was affected by this piece and this engagement between two strangers – all via art.
SNAPSHOT 6: Several folks wanting to get the Deaf Union Flag by French Deafblind artist, Arnaud Balard. Most especially a young Deaf boy and once the flag was in his hand he held it up proudly waving it back and forth with a huge smile on his face.
Ah, its good to be Deaf, eh?
There are many other magical moments that I’m sure I’ve missed as so much was happening – I didn’t get to see a lot of the interactions further down the aisle or in the other row (yes it was that big). I also missed the performances – wahhh – as I really love performing arts and would have loved to see Sunshine 2.0, Douglas Ridloff, and Abababa (Alan Abarbanell) performances. I’m grateful to the volunteers who watched the De^ARTivists United D^AU booth while I was presenting or videotaping here and there so i did get to see and do a wee bit.
Really just an amazingly wonderful event – and one of the many great moments was to learn more about Tony Nitko as an artist himself. David Call was urging, encouraging, and pleading that Tony come out as an artist and me hope he is on his way. I always love learning about new artists and am always amazed by how so many talented De’VIA artists are hidden. So glad they are coming forward. Tony’s art is really good. Filmmaker, artist, marketing director and more – boundless talent. DEAF, Inc. and our Deaf communities at large are blessed to have him.
Will do a part II entry as this post is already lllloooooonnnnnggggg.
Bottom line – THANK Y O U DEAF, Inc. , GSLAD, and all the sponsors of the Deaf Visual Art Festival – you ROCK! Thank you too to all the volunteers and all the attendees who braved the storm and came in soaking wet to soak in the art and become collectors of De’VIA and last but never least – thank you to the artists for CREATING your works, for packing up all your display stands, artworks, accessories, banners, equipment, etc and making the big trip to be at your booth ALL day to meet greet sell and celebrate.
There have been some pictures and a few articles about the festival so check them out at the DEAF, Inc. facebook page. And i hope to put up a few short videos soon.