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Posted: June 7, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Heart of a clown

Local boy will have his art, 'Clown Heart,' featured in Union Station

Brittany Thomas/

Young artist: Michael Webb, 8, of Covington will have his work, 'Clown Heart,' (left) on display at Washington, D.C.'s Union Station from June 1 to June 21. Michael's work was selected as a result of a contest hosted by VSA arts, which hightlight...

Eight-year-old Michael Webb describes himself as a clown.

"I tease my dad a lot," Michael said. "Yesterday, I was in the pool with him and I was teasing him."

He said physical education, music and art are his favorite subjects in school.

"Music better be one of your favorites," said Marie Webb, Michael’s mother and the music teacher at South Salem Elementary.

Freckled face Michael has an acoustic guitar as well as a flaming red, electric Fender – to match his hair. He also enjoys Boy Scouts and soccer.

But, strumming tunes and blocking goals isn’t the only thing at which Michael excels.

Michael’s painting "Clown Heart," will represent the state of Georgia in the children’s art exhibit "Celebrating who I am," sponsored by VSA arts and CVS Caremark All Kids Can. The painting will be on display at Union Station in Washington, D.C. from June 1 to June 21.

Although 51 pieces will be on display, only 11 children were selected to travel to the nation’s capital for a reception at Capitol Hill Wednesday. Michael is one of the lucky students.

Michael was eligible to submit his artwork to VSA arts, a nonprofit organization that highlights the accomplishments of artists with disabilities and advocates increased access to the arts for disabled individuals, because of his diagnosis of attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

"ADHD keeps kids from being able to function normally in the classroom," said Marie of Michael’s trouble mentally focusing and staying on task, "His symptoms are mostly mental rather than physical. Had I not been a teacher, I probably would not have caught it."

As the child of a teacher, Michael stays after school – most of the time in the classroom of fellow teacher and a friend Candise Scholl-Christopher.

Christopher just completed her first year as an art teacher at South Salem Elementary. Because Michael is often around after school hours, she uses him to experiment with her lesson plans.

"He’s a really sweet kid and very helpful in the classroom," Christopher said.

Michael’s piece "Clown Art" came about from a trial run of an applied lesson in a study of popular artist Jim Dine – famous for his neo-Dada, colorful depiction of hearts.

Christopher had students discuss what different colors and combinations of colors meant to them either with what it made them think of or what feelings it elicited. With Michael, she had him first select a color and then paint a heart with tempura paint on paper. He then had to choose how to fill in the heart, and he chose a smiley face. She then had him select how he would decorate his background and showed him how to splatter paint on the paper to finish off his piece.

Because more and more children are being diagnosed with ADD and ADHD, teachers have had to adjust some of their procedures to accommodate and not alienate children affected by the disorder.

Christopher said she tries to maintain a calm classroom by not turning on all of the lights and playing soft music. She helps students stay on task with set classroom procedures and step-by-step instruction, but as an art teacher, she still allows her students enough freedom for creativity to blossom.

She discovered the call for the VSA exhibit through Artsonia.com, a site she used to post her students’ work in a gallery format. Marie agreed that "Clown Heart" would be a wonderful piece for the show.

When she found out Michael’s art had been selected, Christopher was thrilled that one of her student’s art would be displayed in such a prestigious setting. Michael was excited that he would get to visit the World War II Memorial and the National Air and Space Museum.

CVS Caremark’s All Kids Can Program is a five-year, $25 million commitment to support children with disabilities by promoting the importance of inclusion.

"Art gives children of all abilities a great opportunity for personal expression," said Eileen Howard Dunn, senior vice president of Corporate Communications and Community Relations for CVS Caremark, in a press release. "The millions of commuters and tourists who will see this exhibition will have the opportunity to experience and appreciate some wonderful works of art from developing young artists."

Founded in 1974 by Jean Kennedy Smith as Very Special Arts, VSA arts strives to help people with disabilities "learn through, participate in and enjoy the arts." The organization provides resources to parents, teachers and artists and is an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

"The call prompts children to use their imagination and to explore their individuality," said Soula Antoniou, president of VSA arts, in a press release. "Through art, children are sharing their perspectives and learning about one another — they are building inclusive classrooms and communities."

Michael has a very simple reason for why he enjoys art.

"Because," he said, "it makes me feel happy."

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