De’VIA works to create ASL term for Andy Warhol as part of deaf art education workshop | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

De’VIA works to create ASL term for Andy Warhol as part of deaf art education workshop

click to enlarge De'VIA artwork done by Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf students - DE'VIA/WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF
De'VIA/Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf
De'VIA artwork done by Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf students

What's the American Sign Language (ASL) term for "Andy Warhol"? That’s what De'VIA, a curriculum development workshop for deaf art educators, and The Andy Warhol Museum intend to figure out.

De'VIA, which stands for Deaf View/Image Art, wants to give the pop art pioneer and Pittsburgh native a name sign as part of a bigger initiative to expand the ASL art vocabulary. 

“The ASL art vocabulary is relatively small,” says Fran Flaherty, a local deaf artist (she has cochlear otosclerosis, a degenerative condition that requires her to wear two hearing aids) who serves as the educational advisor and instructor for the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (WPSD). 

This is one of the issues being addressed as part of the De'VIA weeklong annual summer workshop at WPSD, which helps art teachers adapt their curriculum for deaf students at K-12 and college levels. 

Part of the workshop’s goal is to develop ASL terminology for art history and techniques. Flaherty points out that no signs exist for even common art terms, which can make teaching art to deaf students more difficult. 

 “These are things that we deal with every day, and if you have an interpreter, and you say the word ‘acrylic,’ they would have to spell it out all the time, or they make a sign up, which can be a little controversial in the deaf community,” says Flaherty.

She says they’re working with Danielle Linzer, director of learning and public engagement at The Warhol, to learn more about Warhol’s background and develop a standard sign for him.

The workshop includes Introduction to De’VIA, a daylong open outreach workshop featuring noted deaf artists, and culminates with the De’VIA gala and art auction on Fri., June 21 at The Warhol.

“Most people who make deaf art expect a deaf audience.”

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Besides language, Flaherty says the obstacles for deaf artists are similar to those faced by hearing artists, including finding funding and venues to exhibit their work. But there’s the additional challenge of making the culture less insular.

“Most people who make deaf art expect a deaf audience,” says Flaherty, adding, “Deaf artists usually come together and support each other and that’s great, but we really need to branch out and we need to do that by having initiatives to go out into the world.”

While Flaherty credits local organizations like The Warhol, the Children’s Museum, and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust for giving deaf artists a platform (she curated the Anthropology of Motherhood installation at the recent Three Rivers Arts Festival), she would like to see more of a push to showcase deaf artists, whether it’s through exhibitions or performance.

“Pittsburgh has so many venues for art and it would be really great if we could show more of that, just diversify the type of art that’s out there,” says Flaherty, adding, “Maybe we should have a big deaf art festival in Pittsburgh.”

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