Written by Kristen Camisa, Illustration ’18, Ringling College of Art and Design
This past October, Ringling College of Art and Design’s Art Network collaborated with the Buddy Cruise, an annual conference at sea that promotes awareness, acceptance, and inclusion for individuals with Down Syndrome and their families. During this week long cruise, the Art Network crew, which consisted of 2 chaperones, an editor, 3 alum, and 2 students, mentored around 85 children and young adults to create The Buddy Cruise News.
I spoke with Lisa Moody, director of Art Network, Brooke Cardoza, Motion Design ’17, and Natalie Palumbo, Motion Design ’17 about their experience on the 8th Annual Buddy Cruise.
Q: Why did Art Network get involved with the Buddy Cruise?
LM: I've known of the Buddy Cruise since its inception in 2007 and was impressed with what they do. In 2012, Amy Nestor and I produced a documentary on them and, although I've worked with special needs children my entire life, this was a game changer. Buddy Cruise kept asking me to facilitate a workshop for them in subsequent years, and it occurred to me that it would be a great skill-building and life experience for my students to take on the role of mentors and work with these children and young adults to produce a news show. In a week. On a cruise ship...Phew.
Q: What kind of planning took place in the weeks leading up to the cruise?
LM: We do a lot of pre pro--we learned so much from last year, that we were much better prepared this year. We worked with IT to make sure our programs could access the internet; we downloaded many music selections from Killer Tracks in advance, since it takes about 4 hours to download one song at sea. We worked with Student Life and the Business Office to make sure all of our paperwork was in order. As much as possible, we updated the graphics we created the first year so we didn't have to do as much onboard. And the students worked with their department heads and faculty to obtain approvals to be out for a week. We only take seniors, so they are working on thesis and can get ahead of the game in preparation of missing classes.
Q:This is Art Network’s second time on the Buddy Cruise. Was there anything different about your experience this year?
LM: Since we had done this before, it was much less stressful for me in particular. Having that history, I was much better able to anticipate challenges and manage expectations...including my own! It's so much work, but this year seemed more fun and more relaxed to me. In addition, I think each year is different...with different students and different Buddy Cruisers, the dynamic is never going to be the same. Even though it was different, I know it was as powerful of an experience for our students, alum and the Buddy Cruisers.
Q: What was a typical day like for your team as you mentored the Buddy Cruisers?
LM: The night before the cruise, we participate in a Meet and Greet at the hotel conference room. Here we talk to kids and their families about the filming opportunities, how everyone is welcome, and we go through all the different roles available. We also film this event. After the welcome ceremony, Buddy Cruisers sign up to be crew members for each day. That means about 80 kids clamor around our event sheets to see what they want to do. And our students are talking to them and their families about the different opportunities. Then we go shoot b-roll of the sail-away party and get some establishing shots.
We start each day with an early morning crew meeting, where we assign roles for that day to the crew members who signed up. Then our students show them how to use the equipment. They learn interviewing skills, audio, lighting, camera, make-up, scene slating, etc. At our designated event time, we meet with the crew and film the event. Sometimes there are two or three events in a day. Then I normally do a paper cut for the editor, which takes several hours, while students shoot more b-roll.
Eventually we edit it all together, marry it to music, produce new graphics, and we select the anchors and film them in a make-shift set doing a multi-camera shoot. We often accompany the group on off-ship excursions on the islands and both years we have taken one day off for ourselves. We may participate in the Buddy Cruise workshops and activities, and there's still time for fun--zip lining, dancing, working out, hanging out in the jacuzzi. Relationships develop between our students and the Buddy Cruisers, and I believe these are life-long friendships.
Q: Brooke and Natalie, this was your first time on the Buddy Cruise. What were your expectations? Was there anything you were nervous or excited about before going on the cruise?
BC: This was my first time with the Buddy Cruise and also my first cruise ever. It was so odd walking out on the top deck on the first day out at sea. You know you are on a boat, but it was just so crazy seeing such a large deep blue plane of water that seemed to never end. The boat that we were on is one of the largest boats in the world.
When thinking of going on this trip I felt both excited and nervous. I was nervous about not being knowledgeable about how to help people who have Down Syndrome. After being on the trip I found that I was perfectly fine. My husband’s brother has Asperger’s and just like him, everyone on the cruise would like to be talked to and interacted with just the same as anyone else. Amy and Lisa were always saying that the cruisers were so great so I was excited to go on this adventure and help the cruisers with the Buddy Cruise News. I love helping people learn and thought that it would be a great experience.
NP: What interested me the most was this event is dedicated especially to families of children and adults who have special needs. My older brother Anthony has low-verbal autism, and I am very close to him. When we both were in school, I would visit his classroom and interact with him and his classmates. The fact that something like this exists gives me hope that we can go out and do things together as a family, hopefully later on. Watching the families was so reminiscent of my home life, and I couldn’t help but think of Anthony during the trip.
I sincerely think it was the best trip I ever took. I kept looking at all the activities and where we were going and thinking, “Oh, I’d love to show this to Anthony.” I was taken aback at how vast and lovely the cruise ship was. It was thrilling for me to be able to see Haiti, Jamaica, and Mexico.
I was most excited about working with the other Buddy Cruisers and the ART Network staff. The staff’s demeanor reminded me of the first time I ever attended Special Olympics for my brother. I was 12 at the time, and I remember seeing how gentle and accommodating the service learners were towards all the participants, including my brother. The ART Network staff reacted the same way to everyone who wanted to work with them, and it gave me hope as a special needs sibling to see such generous spirit.
Q: Do you feel like your team bonded as a result of this experience?
BC: I definitely bonded with my peers on this adventure. Most of the crew was from Ringling College, so we already had a connection even though we hadn't all met before. In between the times of mentoring and recording we all hung out and just talked about life. Most of us live around the area too and we all still are hanging out after the cruise. The cruise was a great time to help other people and also get some time to interact with new friends. We always had cute stories to tell each other about our mentoring each day.
NP: Everyone on the ART Network staff was extremely inclusive, which was a unique experience for me. Most of the time, especially in group settings, people seem to bond easily, and I feel out of step being my life experience was so different. Here, I was able to talk about why I loved this event, and why it resonated so much with me. They really listened and appreciated my perspective as a sibling. I wanted them to know how important their kindness was to these families. Several times, I had to choke back tears watching them interact. If I had the chance to work with this group again, as well as participate in the Buddy Cruise, I would do so in a heartbeat.
Q: What do you think was the most valuable thing the Buddy Cruisers learned from being a part of a news crew?
BC: The Buddy Cruisers learned more about working together and also being a part of their community that they had built. All of them learned how to interview and record video, but what was most important to them was being there with their friends that they hadn't seen since last year. So having the Buddy Cruise News was another part of building up their community while also learning and experiencing new things.
David is a Buddy Cruiser that really was interested in being part of the crew again. He is an amazing interviewer and always had interesting responses to the people he was interviewing. During the mentoring for the beach olympics he said that being an interviewer was his fall back for becoming an actor. That really showed the impact that Buddy Cruise News had on each of the Buddy Cruisers.
NP: I think the most important thing is knowing that they have encouragement from other people that love what they do, and want them to feel the same way about working with the camera or working as an anchor. Seeing how excited the Buddy Cruise News Members were reminded me of the feeling when I would try to get Anthony to interact with me. If he did, it ended up being really special and memorable because it was one of the few moments where we could just be siblings together, regardless of the autism.
Q: What did you learn from your experience with the Buddy Cruisers?
BC: A few dance moves and also a more sense of community. The Buddy Cruise lets a group of people that are going through the same things in life become a loving community. All of these people keep up with each other and become a family. Everyone is just so happy to see each other and to be on another adventure with each other. It was great to be a part of it.
NP: I was elated that such a beautiful event like this exists for families like mine. It was so memorable; I would love to bring my family back to experience it with me. Everyone that participated was so excited to be there, it was contagious. I loved seeing was how enthusiastic the Buddy Cruise News participants were, and how much they wanted to learn. The ART Network staff’s enthusiasm for the event made me feel privileged to share it with them. Their consideration toward the families gave me hope for my future with my brother. It was the best trip of my life.
LM: It always gets reinforced that it takes a HUGE team to make a show like this, and it requires tremendous collaboration. On top of all the work, the students share a tiny cabin, so they grow close to one another in this shared experience and I think it will bond them for life. They gain a new respect for people with challenges...and extending beyond that, an empathy and respect for the families, because it impacts the entire family. They learn that people with Down Syndrome are extra loving--in fact they call that extra chromosome the "love chromosome".
Q: What were the most rewarding and the most challenging parts of this experience?
BC: I got to see the Buddy Cruisers just be filled with pure joy and happiness from just holding the camera. Just getting to hang out with all these people was amazing. They were always so happy and friendly. Miss seeing their faces!
The most challenging part was just getting all of the graphics and some editing done. We stayed up pretty late finessing some of the graphics and helping Roberto with some editing. Working with the crew that Lisa had set up was really easy though. We all had talents that were used. Even our fashon-ista Hanna got to use her talents. She dressed us all up in these crazy outfits and did a mini photo shoot of the crew for the credits which turned out pretty cute!
NP: Processing could be slow at times, which could be stressful, but everything got done and put together beautifully by the other staff members. The entire Buddy Cruise event was so well organized; we could get our work done and also enjoy the beautiful cruise. It was a great experience to work with professional staff that was so much fun and cooperative.
LM: The fact that we can actually produce a quality news show on a ship in a week is amazing. I don't think many people could pull that off, and our students have done it two years in a row. We literally handed off the final file as the closing ceremonies were starting. They had scheduled the Buddy Walk just a couple hours before the closing ceremony, so we told them we wouldn't be able to include the Walk in this initial version. Even though we didn't make any promises, secretly we hoped to surprise everyone by actually including the Buddy Walk, and we did. That was a huge accomplishment. The kids love seeing themselves onscreen, and I love watching the transformations of many of them go from shy and introverted, to outgoing. They are proud of what they accomplish, as they should be.
Q: Why do you think it is important for students to be involved in the community and share their talents?
BC: It is very important for students to be a part of a community because they can learn from others, interact with people from different views of life and also share in each other’s talents. It’s great to meet people from all walks of life and I was blessed to even meet these people. Lisa, Robin and Amy are such amazing people to have as our mentors. Each one of these ladies was always so helpful and kind. They were supportive and also were interested in how you were doing. Ringling should be proud of having such caring and talented people from the Art Network crew. They do an amazing job representing Ringling and its students.
NP: In my case, I started developing my skills in art, film, and animation to cope with the loneliness that my brother couldn’t talk to me. We ended up interacting using my drawings, and my art became our way to bond as siblings. From there, I wanted to further my skills and become a visual artist. I am also an autism advocate for Anthony, and write about my perspective as a sibling on the daily web magazine “Age of Autism”. For me, the Buddy Cruise gives me hope I can experience things like this with my brother in the future, and reminds me of why I work so hard, and why I do what I do. Anthony is depending on me to be strong and successful. I will have to take over for his care when my parents are no longer able. In a sense, it’s a solid reminder of “don’t forget where you came from.” I think it’s important to use your talents in the community to be inclusive, especially to families like mine who need to know that people can be receptive.
LM: It builds character, develops skills, promotes empathy, and defines for them what's really important in life.