VSA (Kennedy Center)

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Founded 1974
Founder Jean Kennedy Smith
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
Website http://www.kennedy-center.org/education/home.html?detailheader=Access#Access

VSA, is an international organization on arts, education and disability, which was founded in 1974 by former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith, and is headquartered in Washington, DC.[1][2][3] In 2011, VSA became the Department of VSA and Accessibility at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The purpose of VSA – which started out as Very Special Arts – is "to provide people of all ages living with disabilities the opportunity to learn through, participate in and enjoy the arts." A primary focus is on arts education opportunities for young people with disabilities and to "promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in the arts, education and culture around the world." Each year, people of all ages and abilities participate in VSA programs, which cover all artistic genres—music, dance, visual arts, theater and literary arts. This is accomplished through a network of affiliates in 52 countries and VSA state organizations across America.[4]

On September 28, 2005 the Board of Trustees of the Kennedy Center and the Board of Directors of VSA arts – as the organization was known at the time – announced their formal affiliation, effective October 3, 2005. The stated purpose of this action was to "enable both organizations to expand and strengthen their arts education programs to better serve children, families and all people with disabilities around the world." Other reasons cited were to allow for the sharing of resources and programming between the two organizations. The affiliation became a full merger in 2011.

Principles and philosophy[edit]

The four principals which guide VSA are that:

  • Every young person with a disability deserves access to high quality arts learning experiences.
  • All artists in schools and art educators should be prepared to include students with disabilities in their instruction.
  • All children, youth, and adults with disabilities should have complete access to cultural facilities and activities.
  • All individuals with disabilities who aspire to careers in the arts should have the opportunity to develop appropriate skills.[5]

Moreover they state that

Inclusion teaches us that all means all. Everybody. No exceptions. The arts invite people to leave familiar territory, explore new questions, and seek answers. The arts offer a means to self-expression, communication, and independence. By learning through the arts, students become lifelong learners, experiencing the joy of discovery and exploration, and the value of each other's ideas. VSA is committed to driving change thru the arts – classroom by classroom, community by community.[5]

Notable programs[edit]

Each year VSA sponsors many notable programs such as the "International Young Soloists Program," "Playwright Discovery" program, Call for Children's art, internships across the nation for students with disabilities. VSA/VW call for art program offers an exhibition opportunity for emerging visual artists with disabilities in the U.S. ages 16–25, including $60,000 in cash awards (among the largest in the nation) with a $20,000 grand prize.[6]

VSA founder Jean Kennedy Smith co-authored a book with George Plimpton entitled Chronicles of Courage: Very Special Artists which was published by Random House in April 1993. This 272 page book profiled 16 artists with disabilities who discussed how participation in the arts made a positive difference in their lives.

Notable artists[edit]

Many artists of note have been directly involved with, or supportive of, VSA. Those with disabilities have included painter Chuck Close, sculptor Mark Di Suvero, theatrical director Jack Hofsiss, musician Tony Meléndez, actor and director Howie Seago, glass artist Dale Chihuly, violinist Itzhak Perlman and many others. Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin wrote and published a sequel to her novel Deaf Child Crossing, entitled Nobody's Perfect, which was produced on stage at the Kennedy Center in partnership with VSA arts in October 2007.[7]

Name changes[edit]

VSA and its name have evolved since the organization was founded. The organization was and continues to be a pioneer in the field of arts and disability. VSA has played a significant role over the years in changing society’s attitudes toward people with disabilities. With that change, the organization has regularly looked at its own identity to ensure it is consistent with current attitudes and language used by the disability community. The organization began in 1974 as National Committee - Arts for the Handicapped, then in 1985 became Very Special Arts. This changes to VSA arts in 1999, and simply VSA in 2009.

Two years later, in 2011, VSA and the Kennedy Center's Office on Accessibility merged, becoming the Department of VSA and Accessibility at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.



  1. ^ "JFK's sister Jean Kennedy Smith reflects". USA Today. 26 September 2010. 
  2. ^ "The Last Kennedy: Jean Kennedy Smith". ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. 26 August 2009. 
  3. ^ White House Office of the Press Secretary (15 February 2011). "President Obama Names Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients". 
  4. ^ VSA Affiliates.
  5. ^ a b VSA Arts "Four Principals"
  6. ^ "VSA programs" on the Kennedy Center website
  7. ^ Matlin, Marlee. Nobody's Perfect

External links[edit]

Similar Organizations