As we continue our series on the programs this event help assists, we want to share with you the story of the Giving Voice program, a project of VSA Colorado and AIGA Colorado.

VSA arts of Colorado/Access Gallery is creating a world where people with disabilities have the opportunity to learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts. AIGA Colorado partners up with them each summer to pair up designers with teens for a poster project. We are happy to say it is a really fun and rewarding experience for all involved.

Joseph with his posterThe Giving Voice program provides opportunities for youth in transition with disabilities to explore graphic arts as career through mentored relationship with a professional graphic designer.

For four years, this Colorado-based effort has paired volunteer graphic designers with teens with disabilities in a structured mentorship. The primary artistic goal being to create an educational poster hung at VSA Colorado’s Access Gallery. Each student is responsible with coming up with a single theme or issue they want to tell the world about regarding their life as a young adult with a disability. The teens in effect become the client for the designers. The designers are charged with interpreting the message the teen wants to convey. The mentor-mentee teams meet several times prior to presenting the poster to the group.

The premise is that while not everyone is an artist but everyone has something important to say. At the beginning of the project, it was realized that the youth had been left out of the dialogue. It was a pleasant surprise when the teens not only had something to say – their point of view was often profound.

Some of the topics covered via the posters so far are:
– Civil rights or people with disabilities who are incarcerated.
– The independent living movement.
– Transportation issues for people who are blind.
– Employment issues for people with disabilities.

We fully expected to be successful during the development of the show but we were not expecting the friendships that developed and the opportunities that have arisen from the designers. Of the 20 pairings last year 11 are still in contact and 5 have made contact or gotten together at least once per month. The designers have said this project has given them a different opportunity than their day to day work. We have placed two teens in formal internships and we are looking at one for a paid internship for this summer.

Reviewing the postersThe epiphany for VSA arts of Colorado was to realize the technology used to open great creativity for the designers is some of the same technology that is opening doors for teens with disabilities to work. The relationship with AIGA Colorado has been the key to our success. We could not have done it without the generosity of the designers and AIGA Colorado. This is one of the highlights of the summer program at VSA Colorado.

You can learn more about Access Gallery on their website and you can see more pictures from this summer’s event here; and from previous summer’s here.