Breaking Ground 100 - Indicator Art: Shining a Light on Hidden Talents

by Debby Throckmorton
a small group of adults with disabilities of varying ages posing for a group photo and smiling
Indicator Art students with singer Kylie Frey

IndicatorArt is a not-for-profit agency that provides programs that teach creative skills and encourage self-expression. Matt Palmo started this organization in Buffalo, New York five years ago, and hired me to start the Nashville branch. I am an acting, songwriting, and singing performance coach from Nashville. Some of my students have worked on television shows such as American Idol, CSI, and Hannah Montana, and starred in films like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

How we treat vulnerable groups and individuals is an indicator of how advanced our society is. IndicatorArt's mission is to enhance the lives of those with significant challenges. Our programs help every participant explore creative expression in an inclusive, fun, and respectful environment. In the time we’ve been in Tennessee, we have helped more than 50 adults accomplish their dreams of having an artistic voice in the community. Most students had never been on stage nor had an audience to enjoy their artistic gifts. We want to shine a light on their talents. 

We shine that light through several art mediums:


Students learn every aspect of filming a movie, by helping write an original short screenplay and then fully producing it in the six-week workshop. Students not only act but learn about all aspects of film production, from creating sets to operating cameras. At the end of the workshop, the film is premiered at a showcase event where the public is invited, and each student receives a DVD of their original work.


Each student sings a song of his or her choice, and participates in a group singing performance. The students receive vocal training and learn about professional singing techniques. They visit an established recording studio to record the group song with a professional singer. At the end of the workshop, the singers perform their songs for the public at a showcase event. Every student receives a CD of the group song.


Students learn how to write and perform an original song. In the workshop, they are taught the basics of songwriting while working on their original songs. Students also spend a class co-writing with one of country music’s hit songwriters. At the end of the workshop, students perform their original songs for the public, and each one receives a demo of his or her song.

Sketch Comedy

Think "clean Saturday Night Live." Students learn acting, improvisation, teamwork, and comedic timing, as well as how to write and film an original comedic scene. At the end of the six weeks, the final scene will be shown to the public at a showcase event, and each participant receives an edited version of the show on DVD.

Starting this branch of IndicatorArt has changed my life! I am always so excited to see how my students grow from the first class to becoming stars on stage at the end performance. I have learned way more than I have taught over this last year. The most important thing that I have learned is that there are no limits. I plan to keep expanding on what we can do, and eventually want to make a feature-length film.

Our first album comes out this year, and it’s full of songs that the songwriters wrote and the singing students perform. We plan to have videos to accompany every song.

Staff, family, and friends shared that IndicatorArt has changed other lives, too. Our students are more confident in everything they do. They are developing friendships and learning to work together as a team, because they all have to work together to make a great show at the end of each six-week workshop. Students are learning to use their voices through acting in the sketch comedies and singing workshops. The songwriters are learning that their thoughts matter and can become beautiful compositions. There’s so much excitement in every show, and that translates to the audience.

“Once you get on stage for the first time you have all these people looking at you, and you start to get stage fright,” said Matt Branch, one of the IndicatorArt students. “But once you overcome your fear, that’s when you start to realize you’re actually showing them what you learned through rehearsal. You understand that even celebrities [have] felt stage fright, but you can’t back down, because you have to show them the gift that you have. You think, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’”

IndicatorArt Tennessee programs are offered at two locations, in Nashville and White Bluff. For more information, visit or the agency’s IndicatorArt Nashville Facebook page.