Since its founding in 1955, NIB associated nonprofit agency The Blind Center of Nevada, located in Las Vegas, has focused on helping people who are blind adapt to vision loss. But the Center also helps members develop their creative potential through a variety of programs focused on the arts.
A strong performing music program offers beginning and advanced classes on keyboard, guitar, and ukulele. Creating music together is an empowering, unifying experience, according to Communications Director Gustavo Garcia, a musician who developed the curriculum in 2015 and teaches group beginner classes several times a week. After mastering the basics, students can move on to advanced classes, generally one-on-one sessions, with Garcia.
The pinnacle of achievement in the program is an invitation to join the Broken Spectacles, the Center’s performance band, which plays an eclectic mix of genres from alt rock to Latin jazz to pop. The group has entertained audiences at popular local spots including the House of Blues, Hard Rock Café, and Suncoast Hotels and Casinos.
Musical talent also shines in the Center’s choral group, Blind Allegiance, a group of about 25 singers led by Jane Harvey of singer Gladys Knight’s Saints Unified Voices. Blind Allegiance frequently performs at events and casinos, and also has an elite choir. Harvey says the advanced music programs help people who are blind understand that they can conquer fears and excel at anything they set their minds to if they take things one step at a time, which music requires.
For those not musically inclined, the Center offers classes in various media, including leather, metal, and foam. Participants in smaller advanced classes learn to sculpt/build, fire, and glaze ceramics, working independently on their own projects with supervision.
The Center’s Culinary Arts Academy, led by Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Gerald Ward, offers programs that run the gamut from helping people who are blind develop basic cooking skills to an “Introduction to Catering” class where students learn to create nutritionally balanced menus, serve a plated meal, and set up a buffet. By the end of 2020, approximately 60 people had graduated from the program, with some finding employment in the Center’s catering operation and others building food service careers outside the program.
The arts programs got a huge boost with the 2018 opening of the Visions of Greatness Center, a 36,000-square-foot building designed to serve the needs of people who are blind. Developed to promote synergy between private rentals and programs fostered by the Center, the flexible, open design offers a large social space, two bowling lanes, and a spacious game room and lounge. Most importantly, it provides a stage, rehearsal space, and recording studio for the performing music program, classrooms for its ceramics and pottery programs, and state-of-the-art kitchen facilities.
The contemporary space can be rented for corporate and social events such as conferences and wedding receptions, and The Broken Spectacles and Blind Allegiance can be booked as entertainment, providing income to the performers. The events business also gives the culinary program an opportunity to showcase its expertise, providing catered lunches for groups renting the Visions of Greatness Center and for offsite events.
More than 50 years since its founding, the Center’s winning approach helps people who are blind joyfully express their creativity while also developing employment skills and credentials.