Arion Jones cannot see the little stuffed creature, but he can feel it.
“This is a lightning bug, and it has two eyes,” the 6-year-old says, a cane in one hand, the other grasping his bright yellow discovery.
He can imagine it as he smiles and lets his hand wander over the new tactile mural at the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired in midtown.
And I’m smiling so hard I almost cry.
Usually, art is made to be seen and not touched, but not this piece, set to be officially unveiled on Wednesday.
Executive director Nicola Heskett wanted something powerful and hands-on when she approached Kansas City artists Donald “Scribe” Ross and his wife, Alisa, about creating a wall to honor donors to the center. Scribe, an acclaimed graffiti artist and art director at Children’s Mercy, is known for vivid imagery that children of all ages gravitate too. And Alisa specializes in huggable, touchable plush art. Together, they created a mural to say thanks a million. Literally.
The center had raised some $10.5 million in its “Exceeding Expectations” multi-year campaign. To thank the donors, the staff wanted to create something that symbolizes the work atCCVI
, where it’s all about educating visually impaired children from birth to age 10, as well as their families. Some can see a little, and others cannot see at all. But at the center, they are empowered through learning.
The mural, also titled “Exceeding Expectations,” is a breathtaking starry night of luna moths, lightning bugs, stars, the moon and owls — things that flourish in the dark. The moon is made of nubby little marbled stones, and mirrors and gems make up constellations, so kids can be taught to feel the Big Dipper. Thanks to textured paint, you can even feel the trees.
The creatures were made with touch in mind. Vinyl, burlap, cotton, polyester and the like stimulate the senses. And while the animals hover in a tree, the protective leaves feature the names of the many people who generously donated to the center.
Teacher Sarah Fields says it is more than a donor wall. It is a great educational tool, from the contrasting colors that are easier to see to the soft textures and bold shapes that the kids can grab onto and identify.
She prepares them to walk along the wall, asking them to look for the lightning bug, to grab a star, feel the moon and find the big daddy owl.
“It’s visual for all of the kids,” she says. “It’s our jobs to adapt the things for kids with various levels of vision or no vision, and the mural is so tactile, they can experience the beauty of it.”
As lovely as it all looks, Scribe and Alisa say it was no easy feat. In the early stages, they tried on goggles at the center to get a feel for the children’s various vision levels. They had to think about the way things feel for the little people who use their fingers to see.
“There was a bit of fear of not being able to communicate,” Scribe says. “We had to translate something we can see one way but that the kids see at various levels, but we are honored that we could do it.”
Now they are working on a long-term goal to create an owl mascot and a bigger storyline for the mural characters, perhaps even a Braille book. They want classrooms to have samples of the mural fabrics as part of an interactive lesson plan.
Jeremiah Greer, 6, is already learning from the wall. His eyes are wide as he peers through his glasses, staring at the littlest owl. He tells me how he likes the soft feathers and big eyes, his hands running along the wings.
“It’s really cool to see them interact and enjoy it,” Alisa says. “It’s indescribable to know what it’s like for them. Not seeing what they see, you can’t define it.”
Jeremiah can’t believe that Alisa and Scribe, standing just feet away from him, are the artists behind the work. He wants to know how they did it. Not only do he and his classmates say thank you, Jeremiah, looking at them and back at the wall, is overcome with one big “Wow.”
And then he gives the artists a hug, setting off a domino effect of affection and gratitude from the other kids, too.
In that moment, I know that our eyes may not see the art the same. But our hearts? We all have the same vision.
To set up a tour of the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired, 3101 Main St., and experience the mural, contact Susan Belger Angulo at 816-841-2284.HOW TO HELP
Join the Sabates Eye Centers Trolley Run, a benefit for CCVI, on April 27. Learn more attrolleyrun.org