Monthly Archives: November 2016

Nov 30

Art & You: University of Saint Francis Jesters


What can build trust, community, cultural literacy, perspective and skill? Art.

The Jesters program at the University of Saint Francis has been doing just that for people with developmental disabilities since 1978. The Jesters is a multi-disciplinary program whose mission is to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities by engaging them in the creative arts.


Led by Allison Ballard and Diane Gaby, the Jesters is an innovative approach to engaging people with developmental disabilities. Understanding that people with developmental disabilities have diverse interests, the program structure was made and consistently adapts to meet the needs of the program participants.

The Jesters program has received national recognition for its infrastructure, having built a team of professional teaching artists and adding entrepreneurship and teaching opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. Every service delivery hour is a training hour, giving them paid employment and job skills.

Allison, the Director of the program, spoke at the LEAD (Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability) conference in Washington D.C. According to NEA spokesperson Lauren Tuzzolino, Jesters is a “model arts program that focuses on people with disabilities” and she has been highlighting the program to state arts agencies “so others could be more informed and inspired by the great work that is possible.”

“The extent, depth and breadth to which we have taken the Jesters program in the past 38 years is not only remarkable, but truly courageous for the University of Saint Francis,” said Ballard.

The Jesters program teaches the participants to express themselves as artists, and they create an original script every year that they publicly perform in the Spring. This year’s performance will take place on Saturday, March 11, 2017 at 6 PM and Sunday, March 12, 2017 at 3 PM in the USF North Campus Auditorium.

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The Jesters meet every Saturday at the University of Saint Francis, where  they focus on multiple creative disciplines.

Over the course of the two hours in the morning, the participants will split up into groups and focus on specific disciplines such as dance/movement, theatre, storytelling, percussion and music. In the afternoon, participants can also engage in visual arts programming.

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The program integrates technology in response to the participant’s interests. To practice storytelling, Jesters participants utilize green screen technology to identify and express emotions.

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For the individuals that participate in the Jesters program teaches individuals who spend much of their life having decisions made for them how to use the arts to express themselves while building lasting relationships.

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This year’s performance theme, chosen by the Jesters participants, revolves around lies—where the participants are sharing personal stories of bullying and discussing how to overcome them.

To learn more about the Jesters program, contact the University of Saint Francis at (260) 399-7700 ext. 8001. The Jesters program is supported in part by the AWS Foundation with support from Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne, the Indiana Arts Commission and an award from National Endowment for the Arts.


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