Friday, February 19, 2016

Tips on Navigating a Museum/Gallery Space with a Special Needs Child

As a museum educator with a special needs child (SNC), it is no surprise that I am interested in museum access.  During winter break I usually take my boys to at least one museum; a children's museum or an art museum with programs for special needs children. This week, however, I veered off script.

For weeks I have been wanting to catch an art show at a nearby gallery. Although this art space was not ideal for my youngest son who is on the autism spectrum, I felt that my older son would benefit from this display as it was in line with what he was learning in school. But again, this was a regular gallery, a college art gallery, a gallery that has no provisions for a special needs child so do I dare take my sensory needy, touchy feely, restless child to this kind of gallery?

I bit the bullet and did it. But not without some planning. Here are my tips on how to to enjoy a "typical museum gallery" with a special needs child like mine:

1. Keep it local

It just so happened that the exhibit I wanted to view was in my borough, this worked out great for us.  If you want to spend the day looking at art with your SNC, check out local galleries and museums. The commute is shorter, and should things go south, at least you will be close to home. 

2. Call ahead of time

I was already aware of this particular gallery's space and knew it would be a good choice for us. Calling ahead and inquiring about the gallery/museum's physical layout and what they have to offer, cuts anxiety and helps you be prepared. 

3. Choose a small gallery or museum

A smaller space might provide a sense of calm for your child and help you navigate the area better with him/her.  It also gives you a sense of completion. This helped us this week during our visit. I got to see every single art work which made me feel quite accomplished.  

4.  Early is best

Arriving at your destination earlier in the day also provides a sense of calm as there will be less people, less distractions, and less sensory overload. 

5. Put something in your child's hands

My son loves to touch EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. That's who he is. So if I take him to a place where there are objects begging to be touched, I better offer something that is as equally enticing. My son loves strings so I usually give him a string when we go out to keep his hands busy and keep him from biting himself, which is another issue. But you might also consider something textured,  one of his own paintings, a sensory toy,  anything that will keep his hands off the art work.  

6. Plan to eat afterwards

If you managed to pull this off, it's time to celebrate! I knew there was a pizza place located right across the street from the gallery so the plan was to eat there afterwards. Unfortunately I didn't follow rule number three and by the time we left the gallery, it was well into lunch time and no seats available in the restaurant. If I would have followed my own advice, and left a little earlier,  this would have worked, and been the icing on the cake. Instead, we ate at a place closer to home which turned out okay, thank God! 

I hope some of these tips can help you enjoy art with your SNC even if the museum/gallery is not as accessible as you would hope. In less than ideal situations it's always about finding a solution and enjoying time together with the ones you love. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sometimes the Invitation is Everything!

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post, Special Needs Mothering and FOMO (fear of missing out). I posted it on my Facebook page  and prefaced it with this statement, " I wish I could go to all the events Iam invited to but as a special needs mom, I just can't, but please don't stop inviting me!"

It is my hope that people would understand the value of the invitation, how huge that is. Even if you think or know we can't go to your event, it means a lot to know that you still think of us, that we are not forgotten, and when we can't make it, that I/we are missed. 

In the past I have heard, "we didn't invite you because we know how hard it is for you to get babysitting" or "it was last minute, we knew you wouldn't come."  I don't want to hear that. Yes, if you really want me/us, to attend your event, please do try to invite us with enough time for us to attempt to find a babysitter. But even if it's last minute, reach out, we might be able to swing it, and if we can't, sometimes the invitation is everything!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Happy New Year! Blog Goals for 2016

Quote from Austin Kleon's Book, Steal Like an Artist, chairs in front of Hugo McCloud's work Untitled, safety series orange, 2014 (currently on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem), Frida Kahlo apron made from recycled denim jeans

Happy New Year! I hope it's not too late to still say that. 

At the beginning of the year I took some much needed time to pray, get in tune with God, and seek direction for 2016. At the end of last year I felt a bit scattered and wanted clear direction so I could spend my time and energy wisely. I am so excited about this new year and want to share with you where God is leading me concerning this blog.

1)The Book

This year I am ready and focused to publish the book I have been writing for three years. It started out as a book about lessons I have learned mothering two kids on the spectrum and it has since mutated into other books which I will hopefully write, one after the other.

Early last year, as I was beginning to celebrate seven years of creative entrepreneurship, I felt God leading me to focus my book on this journey and tell my entrepreneurship story from my perspective as a special needs mom.  Here’s a small first-draft excerpt from the beginning of the book:

"Often, when you are writing a book, they tell you to write what you know but Austin Kleon says, 'write the book you want to read.' The book I'm writing is the book I wanted to read when I started my crafty business. I was a special needs mom on the brink of creative entrepreneurship and I had no role models. There are plenty of people, including moms, that start businesses, crafty or otherwise, all the time, but creating in a context of extreme care is different." 
- Nellie Escalante

I am so grateful for all those who have held me accountable and asked me how the book is going. This is why I decided to mention it here too. I need, and want, accountability. I plan to update you here as well as in my, now-revived, author page on Facebook: Author Nell Escalante. Come join me there if you like.

2) Refashion

Although less often, I will continue posting my refashion/wardrobe reconstruction projects here. I am committed to lessoning my carbon footprint around clothes and look forward to posting more about that this year.

3) Museum Practice

I would like to bring you into my museum practice a little more in 2016 as I have revived my work as a museum educator in the last year and a half.  This is exciting for me. After being home for seven years working on my business, it feels wonderful to have co-workers again. I didn’t realize how much I missed working on a team. I am looking forward to introducing you to artists and techniques I use during my museum talks and workshops.

4) Art Practice

I also want to show you some new techniques which I have learned in my own artistic practice as a fabric artesana. Screen printing, writing/painting on fabric, dyeing, resist techniques, these are all mark-making methods I have been reading and experimenting with and I would love to share my results.

5) Nelesc Designs

In my shop, I will focus on offering a variety of recycled denim aprons. I am looking forward to unveiling a collection soon and also offering some new t-shirt designs.

Well, that’s it! I hope you continue joining me here on this new journey in 2016.   

Friday, January 22, 2016

Special Needs Mothering and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

FOMO! I first heard that term/acronym from my older son who flippantly told me that one of his classmates "has major FOMO", she attends every singular school function. I had no idea what that meant and I curiously asked him, "what's that?" He said, "you don't know what that is mommy? It means Fear Of Missing Out, FOMO.”

Wow, there's a word for it! "That was me!” I thought. I felt relieved. I suddenly diagnosed myself as also having major FOMO! Is there a support group for this?

In retrospect, I don't know if I have FOMO or just want to regain my social life again. At the end of last year, some parents in my support group shared how rarely we, as special needs moms, go out. Of course, this is the story of my life so I chimed in. 

Before kids, I went out quite a bit especially to art/artists events. As a special needs parent, this doesn't happen very often, although I'm trying to rectify that. I guess this is common with any parent, not just special needs. But when one is mothering a "typical" child you expect this to be temporary, that, as the child grows older, you will have your freedom back or at least be able to take him/her with you. Not so with a special needs child. I will forever need to arrange babysitting for my son who requires constant supervision.

I don't have many options for free childcare; I have one sister who lives far away, another with many responsibilities of her own, and aging parents/in-laws who are not equipped to handle Dan's boundless energy.  

Then I have to grapple with my own guilt. "you want to spend money on babysitting to go to a gallery opening, or an art talk? How frivolous! You should be home with your kids! No one has really said this to me out loud but the self-talk is real. 

There are some outings that are no- brainers and if they happen during school hours, even better; school functions that are important for my education as a special needs parent, church every Sunday, and of course, work! These events, I am either required or make a concerted effort to attend.

But when I am deluged with countless invitations to gallery openings, book signings, poetry readings, art talks, kid's parties, church conferences, hanging with friends… I want to go to all of them and major FOMO kicks in!  I have to make a major decision as to whether it’s worth asking my very overworked husband to stay with the kids, whether it's worth paying a babysitter, or whether I will regret it if I decide to do neither and stay home. The last one has happened countless of times and I am determined to have that happen less this year. 

Here is my criteria for how I pick my outings. This is strictly my criteria and I look forward to hearing your criteria as well: 

1.    I go to outings that bring me into community

I belong to various communities and I choose events that will bring me closer to each of them. One community that means a lot to me is the Puerto Rican artist/artisan community so I try to be present for at least two of their major events; The Comite Noviembre Puerto Rican Artisan Fair in November and the Committee to Honor Puerto Rican Women on International Working Women's Day in March. These are blocked out on the calendar so everyone in the house is on notice; I’m going!

10th annual Comite Noviembre Puerto Rican Artisan Fair 2015
Community, in general, is important and necessary for everyone. As an artist, who often works in isolation, like myself, it is huge, so I plan and make sure my child is taken care of during these times.

2. I go to outings that will make an impact on my museum practice.

At a Museum Access Consortium workshop at the Museum of Modern Art 

Besides running a creative business, I am also a museum educator. I talk about art for a living and want to get better at it. When there are professional development conferences or workshops on museum education, I try to be there.

3. I go to outings that are beneficial for us as a family. 

These outings are the best because they don’t require babysitting! Two major events that we clear our schedule for are The Bronxchester Challenger Baseball League and last year’s 1st Annual Sensory-friendly Holiday Party, both hosted by D3 Sports & Recreation, Inc. The Bronxchester Challenger League is a program to help autistic children with sensory integration and social engagement through baseball. We love it! Our kids can be themselves, play ball, and we can grab something to eat afterwards. It’s great family time!

My youngest; after the  game
Anything with the word “sensory” in it has my attention so when we were invited to the 1st Annual Sensory-friendly Holiday Party, we knew we had to attend. Here, we came into contact again with former teammates from the baseball league and others from the autism community.
My youngest playing with rice during the 1st annual Holiday Sensory Party sponsored by D3 Sports & Recreation, Inc. 

These events also bring us into community, the autism community; we need this community in our lives! In general, if you create a space where our kids are welcomed, we will be there!

What are your communities? Where do you need to be seen? Who do you want to connect with, learn more from? Make sure you get to those events. Hire a sitter, ask a friend, plan in advance. Where there is a will, there is a way. This is key to keeping FOMO at bay. You are not really missing out on anything if you attend key events that are important to you. 

How do you organize your outings? I would love to know, Please post your comments below. 

If you would like to donate to the Bronx Parents Autism Support Circle, go to

If you would like to donate to D3 Sports & Recreation, Inc., please click here

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Transform a T-Shirt into a Leather Yoke Tunic: My Latest T-shirt Refashion

I am so proud of my latest t-shirt refashion! I turned my husband's shirt into a leather yoked tunic!

I couldn't believe it when my husband finally let me have this shirt. Maybe he gave in after the 100th time I asked for it? I loved this t-shirt it from the minute he bought it. The bright, sparkle of the gold leaf design against the black background, the intricate detail of the eagle's wings, and the large gold outlines in the upper right corner made for a beautiful printed textile begging to be refashioned.

I knew I wanted a leather yoke for this similar to the one  made for this tunic out of a purse. But, lo and behold, I didn't have a  leather piece big enough for my yoke pattern. What I did have, was leather scraps so I sewed leather scraps together and made a large enough piece for the yoke. Here it is. I love the patchwork effect from the different types of leather. 

I kept the neck band and simply moved it slightly lower, under the yoke, creating a little peek a boo cut out. 

Lastly, I cut the hemline in asymmetrical fashion to compliment the design which was, indeed, also asymmetrical. I am so happy with the results, and have worn it several times already. It also looks really great with a black blazer or sweater. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop by April Vollmer: Book Review

Review by Nellie Escalante

As a printmaker, I was so excited to receive Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop: A Modern Guide to the World of Mokuhanga by April Vollmer. I don’t know much about this kind of printmaking, mokuhanga, but I was excited to find out more. From the moment the book was delivered it into my hands, and I opened the package, I was impressed. It was a lot thicker than I thought and the cover was absolutely beautiful. 

Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop has an approachable tone but also reads like a manual, giving step by step, methodical instructions in creating a work with this printing system. I am accustomed to reading printmaking books that are crafty in nature, about having fun with the art form; the very nature of printmaking is about the everyday and the ease in which one can make an impression. But this book conveys printmaking as serious business.  This is indeed a workshop, just as the title suggests. You come to this book to learn and to work, and I like that.

The author, herself, is a serious student of this art form. Vollmer completed her MFA in printmaking at Hunter College (also my alma mater) and worked with Vincent Longo, an abstract artist who moved easily between printmaking and painting.  She sought mokuhanga after graduate school because it was a water based technique and suited her needs as an artist printmaker in a small studio.  

However, this does not mean that a novice wouldn’t also enjoy Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop. Vollmer states, “I have tried to balance my respect for the careful craftsmanship of Japanese professionals with the desire to make the technique accessible.” Elsewhere in the book she says, “with experience, artists can develop an approach to woodblock printing that reflects their practical situation, technical ability and available resources.”

Vollmer takes us back to the history of Japanese woodblock printmaking, the tools and materials needed to carry out this art form, a step by step guide to create a print, and a chapter on new directions in this medium. The book also includes many exquisite illustrations and photos and is packed with information about tools, techniques, and paper. At the end of the tome, Vollmer, generously, offers countless resources such as a list of online and print magazines, classes, conferences, residencies, a dense bibliography, and other printmaking opportunities.

This was an absolute feast for the mind and eyes. I would recommend this book to serious students of printmaking, someone who already has a basic knowledge of the art form and would like to delve more into the world of the Japanese woodblock print, or, in other words, mokuhanga. I know I will! 

For more info click here
To learn more about April Vollmer, go to her website here

Reviewed by Nellie Escalante
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.