Wednesday, October 23, 2013

[196] MTSU students help young state artists decorate national Christmas tree

MURFREESBORO — Every artist needs an assistant to gather supplies, prepare snacks and provide supportive commentary on works in progress while the creative muse is cooperating.

MTSU speech and organizational communications students handled those tasks with smiling aplomb Monday as they helped 24 young artists from across the state create ornaments for Tennessee’s 2013 national Christmas tree in Washington, D.C., and masks for an upcoming Legislative Plaza display in Nashville.

“We started getting things together last Wednesday … and got everything finished about 11:30 this morning,” said MTSU sophomore Josh McDaniel of Nashville, an accounting major and member of Professor Lori Kissinger's EXL Fundamentals in Communications class.

“We got it all together as it came along, but it looks like everybody’s enjoying themselves now.”

McDaniel was group leader for a team that prepped papier-mache masks for the artists of VSA Tennessee, the state organization on arts and disability, in a workshop inside MTSU’s Tom Jackson Building. Those masks will be displayed at Legislative Plaza to help kick off the 40th anniversary of the national VSA program, Kissinger said.

Kissinger's students regularly help with logistics for VSA events as part of her experiential learning classes, coordinating events like the February 2013 Tennessee VSA Young Soloist Competition and the fall 2012 "Golden Ratio Project," an arts performance that traveled to Athens, Greece, for an international arts education exchange.

They were joined Monday by some of MTSU art education professor Bonnie Rushlow’s students, some of whom have worked with classes at the Tennessee School for the Blind on multiple projects too.

“I’m really glad my students could get involved,” Rushlow said with a smile as her class members rushed to serve as partners for the young artists turning sequins, yarn and tissue paper into works of art.

Anne Pope, executive director of the Tennessee Arts Commission, noted that the VSA Tennessee organization was created at MTSU. She added that the university also hosts one of the largest arts education events in the nation, the commission’s annual “Creativity in Education Institute” for K-12 classroom teachers, arts specialists, teaching artists, principals and arts administrators.

“Some of the best funding we provide is helping VSA with its mission, and MTSU is a part of that,” Pope said before the workshop kicked off.

“This is really what MTSU’s about: working with the community,” added state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, who joined state Rep. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro, in welcoming and congratulating the young artists and their MTSU student assistants.

Tammy Moses of Sweetwater, Tenn., who volunteers with VSA Tennessee and attended the event with her son Sam and daughter Angela, said the organization has been a literal life-changer for her family.

Sam Moses, a pleasantly bashful 23-year-old in a red T-shirt and blond hair casually pulled back in an artist’s ponytail, is a high school graduate but lacked the communication skills he needed because of his autism.

He attended a VSA camp in 2009, where he and his classmates were asked to draw a picture and tell a story about it. That class unleashed Sam’s artistry as well as his voice, Tammy Moses said.

“His communication skills just … oh my goodness, they were so much better immediately after that one class,” she said, looking across the room as her son concentrated on finishing his Christmas ornament.

“Now he has five portfolios full of stories he’s created since 2009. He has 30 stories that are ready to be published. The arts have opened so many opportunities for him and all these kids. I hardly have the words to explain what a blessing VSA has been for him and our whole family.”

You can see more of Sam Moses’ work, as well as some of his siblings’ art, at

His and his fellow VSA Tennessee artists’ ornaments will become part of a 90-year-old tradition of celebrating Christmas with a national tree in the nation’s capitol.

Every year, one-of-a-kind ornaments are made by everyday Americans to hang on the 56 trees – one for every U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia – that surround the national Christmas tree.

In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse to light a 48-foot fir tree decorated with 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white and green, as a local choir and a “quartet” from the U.S. Marine Band performed.

Ninety years later, the tree-lighting ceremony has become a family must-see, whether in person in Washington, D.C., or on TV in a special National Park Service and National Park Foundation program featuring entertainers from multiple genres.

For more information about VSA Tennessee, visit or contact Kissinger at or 615-210-8819. You can learn more about the national Christmas tree at

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