NEW PORT RICHEY
Dustin Myers is an intense artist. Whether it's a pottery pitcher casting a shadow or a bright red flower hanging from a vine in the school's butterfly garden, he's sure to give his subject his full concentration.
"It's really fun drawing stuff," Dustin said after finishing up his latest charcoal drawing in the courtyard at Cotee River Elementary School. "It's pretty fine. It's beautiful."
Dustin, 10, is a student in the school's Educable Mentally Handicapped class. He's also taking instruction once a week from figurative artist Joseph Weinzettle, 42, of Dunedin.
It's all part of the VSA Arts of Florida's "Hand in Hand" program for students with special needs at Lake Myrtle, Denham Oaks, Northwest and Cotee River elementary schools.
VSA Arts of Florida is part of an international nonprofit organization founded in 1974 by Jean Kennedy Smith to create a society where all people with disabilities learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts. The acronym stands for "Vision of an inclusive community, Strength through shared resources, and Artistic expression that unites us all."
The Hand in Hand program is funded by a grant from the Community Foundation of Pasco County, a division of the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.
For seven weeks, four artists meet with special-needs students at the schools to create artwork that will be featured in an exhibit this month.
On the eighth week, an artist with a disability will come and create a collaborative piece of art with the students.
To cap off the program, an exhibit featuring student artwork will be held Nov. 20 at the Land O'Lakes Library.
At 9:45 a.m. every Friday, Weinzettle meets with his students at Cotee River Elementary to teach them about charcoal drawing and the fine arts.
They are learning about shadowing, nature drawing and the French and Italian words for those kind of things, because, says Weinzettle, "This is, after all, a fine art class."
They are also learning how to build a portfolio — and that being an artist can be a messy venture.
"Getting charcoal all over your hands and face is part of the joy of charcoal drawing," Weinzettle tells the students who want to make a bee-line for the classroom sink.
"They're coming along well," Weinzettle said after completing the fourth class last week.
"There are occasional spells where someone makes a great leap," he said, noting that one of the students created a very intriguing abstract design that will likely make it into the exhibit. "But most of what I'm trying to do is plant a seed."