VSA arts values the arts as a tool to educate, empower, and employ people of all abilities. Over the years, VSA arts has pioneered the arts as an inclusive strategy for learning and living for people with disabilities.
VSA arts' mission has always been to provide people with disabilities the opportunity to learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts. Programs are conducted through a network of affiliates in communities, cultural centers, and schools throughout the United States and in 55 countries.
Congress designated October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month in 1988 to educate the public about issues related to disability and the employment needs of all individuals. The month puts the spotlight on employment of people with disabilities and gives an opportunity to reflect on the progress made in tapping into a talented, skilled, and diverse pool of workers.
Recent polls show that although people with disabilities are eager for an opportunity to contribute their skills and abilities to employers, their overall unemployment rate is 70%. Jobs are the ticket to greater freedom, independence, and the chance to fully participate in and contribute to society.
Investing in the arts is a way to build the skills that define the next employable workforce. Creativity, imagination, and above all innovation are traits that are vital to the success of all industries. Arts careers offer personal satisfaction and lifestyle choices that go beyond monetary rewards offered by other careers. They provide an outlet for both therapeutic and professional support for people with disabilities.
Artists with disabilities play an important role in VSA arts' efforts to advance the value of the arts to schools and communities and to promote inclusion and access. A proactive force since its founding in 1974, VSA arts has established itself as a resource both for artists with disabilities and those seeking to identify and support them. One of VSA arts' guiding principles is that all individuals with disabilities who aspire to careers in the arts must have the opportunity to develop necessary skills.
Integrating artists with disabilities into the broader cultural community allows for greater dialogue and understanding of the challenges faced when approaching full access. VSA arts showcases the achievements and abilities of emerging artists with disabilities to provide positive role models and establish the arts as a potential career opportunity. By highlighting the skills developed by individuals who have demonstrated the commitment, desire, and competence to pursue the arts as a career path, VSA arts is fulfilling a vital role in preparing the next generation of talent.
Rhonda Zwillinger (2010) exhibition on display at the S. Dillon Ripley Center of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.