Mary Jane Swaney was a talented artist who over her lifetime supported many artists and workshops at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center through her financial gifts. At her passing in 2016, Swaney left a generous gift to benefit the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) Arts Program. Keeping in mind what was important to Mrs. Swaney, the VKC collaborated with the Metro Parks disABILITIES Day Program to create a series of art workshops.
The Metro Parks disABILITIES Day Programs serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Monday through Thursday at the Centennial Sportsplex, and provide a wide range of activities.
During Spring 2017, nine participants, ages 13 to 31, with intellectual and developmental disabilities participated in a series of workshops at the Centennial Sportsplex.
Lain York, professional artist and gallery director of Zeitgeist, led the workshops that utilized a variety of mediums including colored pencils, markers, and paint.
“These workshops and shows are part of a larger effort in the Greater Nashville Area to put a face on an inclusive creative community that consistently tops national polls as one of the hottest places to live as an artist,” York said.
Artists explored and created works with widely ranging aesthetic sensibilities on a range of subjects, for example, animals, transportation, geography, geology, ecology. Some of these individuals had never before had this opportunity to express themselves through art.
In Summer 2017, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center featured an exhibition of these works entitled By Land, By Sea, By Air!
In March 2018, the workshop reprised was at the Sportsplex with artist Kay Kennedy, a graduate of Watkins College of Art and an instructor for Healing Arts Project Inc. The workshop theme was Residue and Renewal.
Eighteen new and returning participants tackled a different project each week exploring images left behind (residue) and the transformation (renewal) of materials. They worked with mediums new to most of them including powdered charcoal handprint drawings, tape resist painting, faux batik with indigo dye, and Polaroid still-life photography.
“Pacoda and I enjoyed the art program and hope to be able to participate again,” said parent Vickie Bellamy. “I feel she gained confidence in her creativity, social skills, following directions, waiting her turn, sharing—and, most of all, having fun learning that you can use anything to make art.”
These works will be featured in the upcoming “Creative Expressions XXIV” exhibit held in partnership with the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities. Works are shown at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.
“The VKC and the Metro Parks disABILITIES Program are continuing to look for more opportunities to collaborate and to provide more arts opportunities for the community,” said Elise McMillan, co-director of the VKC University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, director of VKC Community Engagement and Public Policy, and senior lecturer in Psychiatry & Behavioral Science.
In the past, asked about her motivation to support these art activities, Swaney said, “I have experienced these workshops, and it is such a joy to see the participants respond and just blossom. It is a beautiful, beautiful thing to see.”
Swaney and her late husband C. Robb Swaney, an architect, first became involved with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center in 2001 when they explored making a memorial gift to the Susan Gray School in honor of Keith Crabtree, the son of a longtime staff member and friend in Robb Swaney’s firm. The outcome was a new accessible playground for the toddler classrooms, designed by Robb Swaney and accomplished through gifts from the Swaneys, Sam and Linda Brooks, and gifts from the Tennessee Titans and other donors.
“Mary Jane Swaney’s love of the arts was clear in her own activities, which included teaching and making art in mixed media,” McMillan said. “She was a long-time supporter of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s art workshops, through which she opened the world of artistic expression to children and adults with disabilities.”
Laurie Fleming is VKC UCEDD program coordinator and leads the VKC Arts Program.
Pictured top of page: Creating art in a workshop session co-sponsored by the VKC and Metro Parks disAbilities.