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by DeAnna Pursai
I believe that Friday this past Friday night is a game-changer for the College of Adaptive Arts and more importantly for perception of artistic expression and disability. College of Adaptive Arts showcased the talents and artistic creations of the CAA Superstaff at the School of Arts & Culture at the majestic campus Mexican Heritage Plaza on east side of San Jose. The “mountain” obstructing true human potential took a veritable heave at about 9:30pm to a thunderous applause during the finale song of CAA’s Alma Mater, Just Believe.
I have been telling folks for years that we have the most awesome staff at the College of Adaptive Arts. We have fine artists, dancers, actors, singers, musicians, poets. They are absolutely dedicated to teaching their students at the College of Adaptive Arts. Many have other jobs and just come in to teach one or 2 classes a week during CAA’s 8-week quarters. Many do not have a chance to get to know other professors in different departments. Certainly none of us are getting monetarily rich in our positions.
But what connects us all at a very base level is Disability and Love of the Arts. Many of the CAA Superstaff, myself included, have disabilities. I was diagnosed with OCD & anxiety disorder in 2004. Some of our staff are blind and visually-impaired. Some of our staff have dyslexia; some are cancer survivors. Many of us are patching together multiple jobs to make ends meets. Many staff may not have been successful in a traditional, typical workforce environment.
But when you walk through the doors of the College of Adaptive Arts, all of those traditional stereotypes just melt away. There’s a palpable love in the air that our students, adult learners with special needs, radiate when they are in this unique learning environment. The students bring such an eagerness to learn, to create, to contribute – and a sincere gratefulness to our staff for honoring them and paying attention to them.
I’ve realized that as a staff, we are weaving a beautiful web of support, helping each other to thrive and survive while simultaneously bringing out the best artistic talents of our adults learners with special needs. When I am having one of my anxiety attacks, my business partner invariably calms me down and gets me recalibrated. When one of our visually impaired teachers need an arm for guidance, another CAA Superstaffer will naturally provide an elbow. When a staff person is struggling with a word or social cue, another staffer will chime in with just the right word or phrase.
Friday night I was standing next to our exquisitely talented our CAA Librarian, Suzanne Williams. I commented, “We might be the only show in the nation where a blind librarian is going to demonstrate her photography right after a Latizmo hip hop dance performance.” She laughed and agreed. It was an evening where everyone’s disabilities were such an afterthought – it was a true expression and connection of the Love of the Arts.
People came up to me after the show and said, “De, you have amazing staff! I had no idea!” The electricity and excitement was palpable. Something’s happening. Perception is changing: Perception of Disability: Perception of Artistic Expression. It feels so right; it feels so liberating; it feels freaking awesome.
DeAnna Pursai J
Photos by Linda Krakow Eaman