There is a lot of art covering the walls at the Rising Sun Café in Brooksville. And until at least March 31, there is a special exhibit brightening the restaurant/gallery's display.
On March 11, there was a reception honoring these newest artists, who inspire and delight with their colorful two-dimensional pieces and interesting sculptures. The art was done by special-needs students from three schools, Moton Elementary, Explorer K-8 and West Hernando Middle.
The children benefited from a grant-funded program that paired them with professional artists who visited and taught them at their schools.
The program, called "Hand 'n Hand," was a collaborative effort between the Hernando County School District and VSA (formerly Very Special Arts) arts of Florida, funded by a grant from the Community Foundation of Hernando County.
VSA, affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, encourages learning, enjoyment and participation in the arts for the disabled. The school programs, such as this one, couple artists with students to achieve those goals.
There were four artists in the local VSA program. Two, Robert Bruce Epstein, 58, who is based in St. Petersburg, and Lorraine Steffens, 59, who lives in Hillsborough County's Brandon area, taught seven sessions.
Richard Davis of Spring Hill and Lisa Phillips from Hudson visited the schools on two occasions. These artists were at the schools with Epstein and Steffens for one session, followed by single sessions of their own. Davis and Phillips encouraged the students to develop their talents by sharing their successes as adult artists who also deal with their own disabilities.
Epstein is known for his large-scale sculptures. His newest, Soaring Spirits, can be seen at Avion Park Westshore Complex near Tampa International Airport. He is on VSA's teaching artists registry.
"I've been teaching in a variety of areas for a number of years," he said. As for working with special-needs students, he said, "I thought it would be a challenge, which it was. I thought it would be difficult, which it was. I thought it would be rewarding, which it was beyond my expectations."
One of the projects Epstein did with his students was putting paint on paper and folding it over to simulate printing. He said the art instruction goes beyond art. It helps students lengthen their concentration skills.
Steffens, a member of the Florida Craftsman Association, has worked with VSA for three years.
Steffens is also a teacher at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry. She said children learn in a variety of ways and visiting the children provides them with another learning opportunity. "I enjoy working with youth and seeing that spark of learning."
She connected her love of science and art by using both with the children. To create their art, she had the students roll tennis balls through primary color paints and then roll them down a ramp across paper. They had the option of dropping the balls, too.
Susan Moglia, 50, one of Moton's exceptional student education teachers, championed her students saying, "They can do it." She participated in the program, she said, "So people can see that these kids are capable of these activities."
Marilyn Farber, a VSA professional development coordinator, has been with the group for nine years. She was at the reception and agreed. "The purpose of this is to showcase the art of special-needs students," she said.
Don Abbene, 32, is the WHEAT teacher in a team of six, including support personnel, at West Hernando Middle School. WHEAT is the West Hernando Education and Treatment program, for students who benefit from an alternative to the regular classroom. "They're definitely a hands-on group. They're very intelligent, so this was a good match for them," he said. His students created sculptures.
Deena Kollin, 54, is the Explorer K-8 ESE teacher who welcomed the artists into her classroom. "Our kids really love, art," she said. And this "provided instruction for them and a different kind of experience."