The Art of Listening

Memphis College of Art’s new Art of Storytelling class traveled the city of Memphis to meet people from all walks of life, to learn the skills of listening, observing and telling others’ stories. Places they visited included a women’s prison, nursing home and SRVS.

The eleven student class was taught by local artist and storyteller Elaine Blanchard. Blanchard believes every person has value and a significant story to share. “I have faith in the redemptive and transformative power of a story well told,” Blanchard said.


“I have faith in the redemptive and transformative power of a story well told.”

On March 26, the class mingled with people served in a circle dialogue at the SRVS Career Center, listening to various stories of the individuals. Robby McElhaney and Déjà Anderson chose people supported Jakhari and Cadaryl as their storytelling subjects. A third student, Maxwell Haron, selected SRVS as a place to tell its story through a mural.

Due to his prior experience working with special needs students in high school, McElhaney, an illustration major, was drawn to the individuals at SRVS and chose Jakhari as his subject.

“I wanted to do something on Jakhari to capture his talkativeness and happiness,” said McElhaney.

IMG_2068On April 14, McElhaney returned to SRVS to visit with Jakhari, who was joined by his lifelong friend Cadaryl. Meeting in the learning center, the three of them talked and joked as McElhaney listened and snapped photos, looking to capture one of Jakhari’s signature smiles for an illustration.

Spending time with Jakhari taught McElhaney to be a better listener as an artist. He appreciated learning different ways of hearing stories in order to turn them into art.

Muralist Maxwell Haron chose SRVS as his project because he wanted to do a piece that could visually represent the community of SRVS. “I was very impressed with the community. I hope everyone can look at the mural and find something in it they enjoy, that represents them and they are proud of having here,” said Haron.

mural4Artist Déjà Anderson chose Cadaryl because of his smile and how it made her want to get to know him better.

IMG_2108Anderson created a mixed media piece featuring a smiling, blue Cadaryl with an orange background on wood. “I painted Cadaryl blue because that’s what he said when I asked him what he wanted to be if he could be anything in the world. ‘I want to be blue like a smurf,’ he said. I could make that happen. I could make Cadaryl blue,” Anderson said.

Anderson added a crown to Cadaryl’s head to signify how special he is. “Everyone says people with disabilities are special, but Cadaryl really is,” she said. “He lights up the world and that’s why I gave him the crown with radiating lines.”


“I could make that happen. I could make Cadaryl blue.”

Anderson walked away from her time listening to Cadaryl’s story with a new understanding of the expression; don’t judge a book by its cover. “As cliché as that sounds,” she said.  “All of us have learned everyone shares some kind of common ground experience. Cadaryl and I share the same birth month. We share the same likes of colors and TV shows. You will always have a common ground with someone.”

“These students have been challenged with loss and pain in their lives,” said Blanchard. “They have been touched by the people they have met and have been very compassionate describing their interactions. I hope they make connections between their own challenges with those of the people they met.”

The class culminated with a presentation of the students’ stories and works of art at Theater South on April 26. McElhaney and Anderson will donate their artwork as gifts to Jakhari and Cadaryl.


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