There were a lot of people with beautiful eyes. There were a lot of people, period, at the National Very Special Arts Festival held Saturday on the top floor of the Kennedy Center.
You want celebrities? Well, we had Jean Kennedy Smith, the national chairperson, jitterbuggin with a redheaded kid with Down's syndrome who danced so hard he danced right off his feet.
We had artist Jamie Wyeth drawing pigs, all kinds of pigs, pigs in love, pigs eating flowers, pigs dancing, while children, lined up at a counter before him, drew their own pigs. Andy Warhol's red-and-green masterpiece, "Christmas With a Pig," overlooked the scene.
We had Tammy Grimes, who first read Maurice Sendak stories aloud to children and the media, mostly the media. But later she got away from the cameras and the autograph people and sat in a corner singing with some handicapped kids. Next to her, as with all performers, a translator put the words into sign language. Some children sang along, some signed along.
We had Brom Wikstrom, who painted portraits holding the brush in his teeth. We had Billy Taylor at the piano, the puppets of George Latshaw, who works with the profoundly handicapped, and sculptors, singers, mimes, painters, dancers, magicians, jewelry makers and lei stringers from Hawaii. The loudest crowd of all surrounded Linda Bove and Ed Waterstreet, who told stories with their hands.
There were 40 performing groups from all over the country and nearly 800 handicapped children to watch them in this remarkable festival, the fourth annual four-day convention run by the National Committee, Arts for the Handicapped.
"The groups are picked from the various states by our coordinators," said Jean Smith. "They can do so much. Some have very special talents. Some people think if you teach the handicapped to go to the bathroom that's enough."
Peggy Hanson of Rockford, III., said the same thing. She was here with the Camp Sunshine delegation of four children with Down's syndrome and three chaperones. Her son Scott was one of the children.
"How old are you, Scott?" someone said.
"Seventy-two," he said.
"He feels 72," his mother said. We're all tired Actually he's 11. We're been on the go since Thursday."
Scott can do nearly everything his two normal sisters can, she added. Some things he can do better, especially when challenged.
"That word 'special' gets my back up. It really irritates me when somebody generalizes about what the retarded can or can't do. They can do more than you think."
One reason for the festival is so people who work with the handicapped can compare notes about ways to challenge them. Barbara Green, with the Rockford group, said she had learned about making puppet faces from wooden spoons.
Judy Schopf, 19, of Rockford got a signed Wyeth charcoal sketch. She started to fold it but was stopped just in time by someone who knew the value of such things.
By late afternoon, a lot of the people had gone back to their hotels exhausted by the crowds, the noise, the confusion. But there was still plenty happening.
"Anyone from Indiana?" called a plaintive voice in the throng . . . A girl with a yellow balloon tied to her wrist drew a violet pastel face with many, many noses . . . Balloons were everywhere (including on the ceiling of the Hall of Nations downstairs), and they kept popping . . . "We have no chairs. We need more chairs. This wonderful thing going on, and no one can see it" . . . In a corner, a grizzled man knelt to feed a spastic child in a wheelchair . . . Mickey Mouse was led through the mob looking hot in his huge plastic head . . . Badge: "Warren James, Puerto Rico, father."
Wikstrom was still there in his wheelchair, painting kids' pictures with the brush held in his teeth.He had been at it since 10 o'clock. CAPTION: Picture, Barbara Arm instructs Scott Hanson in molding clay; by Vanessa R. Barnes-The Washington Post