Young Midstate Artists Take TN Christmas to D.C.


Two dozen young Midstate artists’ unique visions will be on display, with help from MTSU students, when Tennessee’s state Christmas tree shines brightly alongside the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Dec. 1.

Participants in the VSA Tennessee program crafted the festive folk ornaments on a decidedly non-wintry afternoon, but a Yule log fire, a wisecracking Santa and holiday stockings and sweaters inside MTSU’s Ingram Building made the brief but boisterous workshop creatively delightful for the artists and their supporters.

Those supporters included friends and family members alongside MTSU professor Lori Kissinger and her EXL Organizational Communications in Communities students, who once again coordinated the project from beginning to end.

Kissinger also directs VSA Tennessee, the state organization on arts and disability that was established at MTSU. It’s also an affiliate of VSA, the international organization on arts and disabilities founded in 1974 by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith and formerly known as Very Special Arts.

“This ORCO 3250 class voted unanimously to make this event more than just making ornaments,” Kissinger said of her experiential learning students.

“They arranged for the decorations, the photo booth, the extra ‘make and take’ ornaments, stockings and the refreshments. They’ve done a great job!”

Yvette Cowden of Nashville, who’s worked with VSA Tennessee as a teaching artist for several years, provided the artistic direction for this year’s ornament project, an Appalachian folk-inspired design. Each of the ornaments is filled with pinecones, musical instruments, ribbons, buttons, burlap, rolled paper, feathers, beads and more and will be protected by and viewed through its plastic globe’s unpainted side as it hangs on the Tennessee tree in Washington.

“It’s a fairly simple design. You just use your hands and your imagination and have fun,” Cowden said as the young artists inspected and collected items from the selection of supplies, already mentally planning their creations.

Judy Boyd of Murfreesboro looked on with a smile as her son, longtime craftsman Adam “A.J.” Boyd, consulted with his artist’s assistant for the afternoon, MTSU freshman Dillon Koenig of Cleveland, Tennessee. Amid their happily noisy surroundings, the men discussed which supplies would have the best impact on Adam Boyd’s design.

“He is a crafty guy,” Judy Boyd said. “He’s participated in a lot of events with VSA. Whenever Lori (Kissinger) has a project that he’s interested in, he goes and does it.”

Koenig said he and his organizational communication classmates were determined to make the event a special one for the visiting artists.

“We took a class vote and everybody immediately said ‘YES!’” Koenig, a freshman majoring in public relations, explained. “We didn’t know what it entailed at first, but it’s been really exciting to see what we’re all doing together.”

Kissinger’s students regularly help with logistics for VSA events as part of her experiential learning classes, coordinating events like the annual Tennessee VSA Young Soloist Competition and the “Golden Ratio Project,” an international arts education exchange performance.

The VSA Tennessee artists’ ornaments will once again become part of a now 94-year-old tradition of celebrating Christmas with a national tree in the nation’s capital.

Every year, one-of-a-kind ornaments are made by Americans to hang on the 56 trees — one for every U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia — that surround the national Christmas tree. The Dec. 1 tree-lighting ceremony is a family must-see, whether in person in Washington, D.C., or on TV in special National Park Service and National Park Foundation programming.

All the trees will be on display through the end of the month on the Ellipse in President’s Park.

To learn more about the work of VSA Tennessee, visit or contact Kissinger at [email protected]. You can learn more about the national Christmas tree at