10 Great Reasons to Attend the LEAD® Conference

Thinking about attending the annual Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD®) Conference? Here are the top 10 reasons why it’s a smart choice for professional development for arts administrators of every level.  

  1. Access to ideas. Tap into the collective “brain trust” of arts administrators from museums, theaters, parks, zoos, libraries, and other cultural venues.


  2. Become indispensable to your organization. What you’ll take away from LEAD® will show current and future employers that you’re knowledgeable and dedicated to inclusion and accessibility in the arts. Plainly put, it’s a great resume builder.


  3. Networking. Connect with arts managers from around the world who have similar passions and knowledge of accessibility.

    DSC00676_SBurzio cropped

  4. One-of-a-kind professional development. No other conference focuses on accessibility in cultural venues like LEAD® does. The conference provides an intimate, rich atmosphere, where arts professionals of all levels can learn and share what they know.


  5. Experiential opportunities. LEAD® provides the opportunity to experience accessibility services and programs. Through our pre-conference Capacity Building Workshops and optional performances with accessibility services, you can see access in action!


  6. Access to experts. The Kennedy Center engages leading thinkers in the field to present at the conference. And after the event, attendees are invited to join an exclusive listserv to continue the conversation and ask questions.


  7. Straight from the source. Get ADA and accessibility law information directly from the Department of Justice.


  8. Practical information. You’ll bring ideas and practices to your organization that can be implemented right away.


  9. Something for everyone. LEAD® has sessions and workshops for beginners and the more experienced. It doesn’t matter what your background or knowledge level is – we have sessions for you.


  10. Registration candy. Say hello to the staff and help yourself to our always-stocked registration candy basket. If this doesn’t sell you on attending, we don’t know what will…



JFKC: A Centennial Celebration of John F. Kennedy at the Kennedy Center

During the week of May 22-29, 2017, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is celebrating JFKC: A Centennial Celebration of John F. Kennedy, in celebration of JFK’s 100th birthday. Below are pieces of art selected from the VSA Permanent Collection, which illustrate the five enduring ideals embodied by JFK: COURAGE, FREEDOM, JUSTICE, SERVICE, and GRATITUDE. We welcome you to celebrate #JFKC with us all week on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages.


vsa1997.002_chandRadhika Chand began making art as a young child to help develop her fine motor skills—one part of a program designed to minimize the symptoms of Down syndrome. Chand continued to make art when she saw the positive effect that her work had on others. As she said of her first solo exhibition, which took place in Delhi in 1992, “that made me feel happy, good and fulfilled because I could do something which gave others so much joy.”

Having grown up in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, Hong Kong, and Sydney, Chand’s exposure to diverse cultures and countries has influenced her work. Her abstract paintings, a combination of watercolors and acrylic paint, are a spontaneous response to the world around her.

Radhika Chand
Redflower, 1997
Watercolor and acrylic (19 in x 28 in)



Ernie Pepion grew up working on his family ranch on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana. In 1971, after a car accident rendered him quadriplegic, Pepion began painting. He studied painting at Montana State University, and developed a substantial body of work by 1991, when the Missoula Museum of the Arts recognized his achievements with the retrospective, Ernie Pepion: Dreams on Wheels, the first major solo exhibition of a contemporary American Indian artist in a Montana museum.

For Pepion, painting allows him to be “…a person beyond the limitations of racial prejudice and disability.” His work does this by offering dreamlike scenes and improbable scenarios. This can be seen in Buffalo Hunter (1986), which depicts Pepion hunting buffalo from his wheelchair/hobby horse turned steed.

Ernie Pepion
Buffalo Hunter, 1986
Oil on canvas (47 in x 52 in)



Maria Jankovics was born in 1949 in Budapest, Hungary, just before the collapse of the Hungarian Republic. In 1956 her family fled the country during the Hungarian Revolution for Montreal, Canada, where Jankovics began studying art. Jankovic’s work draws on her cultural heritage and experience with illness that began when she contracted scarlet fever at age four. As seen in Dragonfly, she often borrows imagery from her mother’s Jewish and her father’s Catholic faiths, using images and text that recall illustrated books for children. Her work is bright, energetic, and playful, but also conveys themes of physical suffering, anxiety, and political strife. As Jankovics explains, “My paintings are very colorful with a sense of anguish, irony but with a ray of hope and a bit of humor. The work has a childlike quality all coming from my imagination.”

Maria Jankovics
Dragonfly, 2000
Collograph (36 in x 26.5 in)


vsa2011.007_frankAs a young adult, Alyce Frank moved to New Mexico where the landscape made a deep impression upon her. “New Mexico was so powerful and demanding that the way I made peace with it was to paint it,” she explains in Joseph Dispenza’s book The Magical Realism of Alyce Frank. Frank became a prominent figure in the southwestern art community, and pioneered a style that she would term “Taos expressionism.” Taos expressionism draws its stylistic elements, such as color palette and paint handling, from the expressionist painters and its subject matter from the dramatic southwestern landscape.

Alyce Frank
Hayfields – Arroyo Hondo, 1990
Serigraph (30 in x 22.5 in)


vsa2011.037_yamagataIn 1989 artist Hiro Yamagata began his ongoing association with VSA when he was commissioned to design a poster for the first International VSA Festival, which exhibited the work of artists with disabilities from numerous countries. Invited to serve on the Board of Directors, the artist also helped established the Yamagata International Visual Arts Institute and Fellowship, an annual arts program that selected international artists with disabilities and teachers to study adaptive techniques and develop their work at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington. In 1993 he was awarded the first annual Freedom of Expression Award for his contributions to VSA.

Hiro Yamagata
Statue of Liberty, n.d.
Serigraph (68 in x 41 in)

Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities Around the World

UN Enable logoGovernments, United Nations agencies, and other institutions have been commemorating International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) annually on December 3 for over 20 years to promote awareness and mobilize support for issues related to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. Members of the VSA Network are celebrating IDPD all over the world; read on to learn more about arts education events happening on December 3 in Egypt, Canada, and the United States.


VSA Egypt is celebrating IDPD with an in-school event for 120 students ages 5-16 with physical and motor disabilities. The event is a collaboration between VSA Egypt, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Culture; it includes arts and crafts activities, as well as games and sports competitions. VSA Egypt is also presenting a performance of a popular Cairo puppet show at the school, and snacks will be offered throughout the day.


Creative Spirit logo

CSAC logo

The Creative Spirit Art Centre (CSAC) in Toronto, Canada is celebrating IDPD with a lunchtime ceremony on December 3. The ceremony recognizes three individuals who have helped CSAC through their professional contributions in the field of art and disability. Those receiving awards are: Christina Martins, a politician working to make artists with disabilities visible by creating exhibitions in her constituency office; Amee Le from the Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto, who has created art programs and workshops for people with head injuries; and artist Mayuko Ueda, a volunteer art facilitator, administrator, and independent scholar in Art Brut practice in Japan and Canada. CSAC artists are presenting the three awardees with works of art at the ceremony.



A VSA Tennessee artist works on a clay piece.

On December 3, 2015, VSA Tennessee (United States) is hosting a reception at the Sumner County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in Gallatin, Tennessee. The reception features clay art created through a VSA Tennessee workshop under the direction of artist Kathy Plourde with Project 22. The workshop and art are part of an international art and education exchange with VSA Egypt. The event also features several VSA Tennessee performers, including VSA Tennessee Young Soloist winner Logan Blade, the Dulcimer Choir, and the Movement Connection dancers.


ArtsAccess image

Art by King Nobuyoshi Godwin

Also in the United States, Arts Access in Raleigh, North Carolina, is celebrating IDPD with an evening event on December 3. Arts Access’ “An Evening with Friends” at the Roundabout Art Collective in Raleigh features inclusive art, music, food, and drinks. Attendees also get a sneak preview of artist King Nobuyoshi Godwin’s new exhibit at the event.


The United Nations (UN) recognizes IDPD with a series of events at UN headquarters in New York. For more information about UN celebrations, visit their website.

A Vision Embodied

Forty years ago, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith founded VSA to ensure that people of all ages living with disabilities could learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts. Over the course of those 40 years, countless artists with disabilities have benefitted from the Ambassador’s important vision and work. One exhibition in the 25/40 Celebration, entitled VSA 40th Anniversary: Championing the Arts, features eight such artists on whom the arts, and VSA, have had an enormous impact.

Violinist Niv Ashkenazi

Niv Ashkenazi

Violinist Niv Ashkenazi first performed at the Kennedy Center in 2007, after winning the VSA International Young Soloists Award. Since then, his exceptional talent and association with VSA have brought him back to Washington, D.C. and the Kennedy Center stage many times. An active performer and soloist, Ashkenazi has made several Carnegie Hall appearances and has performed in Europe, the Middle East, and across the United States. He serves on the board of the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra and works as a coach with several local youth ensembles. He has organized concerts for head trauma patients at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and was a founding member of the trio, Ensemble Eclectico, which performs for audiences with limited or no access to live music.

A photo of J.P. Illaramendi

J.P. Illaramendi

Actor and musician J.P. Illaramendi was accepted into one of the first groups of the Experiential Education Initiative, a selective internship program at the Kennedy Center for people with disabilities. During this six months long, intensive, full time experience, Illaramendi, who has Down syndrome, was highly valued by his fellow workers and showed an advanced understanding of professionalism in the theater. At the end of the internship, Illarramendi was hired by the Kennedy Center as an usher at the Eisenhower Theater. He is also a regular volunteer in the office of the Kennedy Center’s Office of VSA and Accessibility.

A photo of Marquetta Johnson

Marquetta Johnson

As a young woman, Marquetta Johnson explored painting, sewing, and embroidering on fabric, dyed in colors she created herself. After recovery from a spinal injury in 1989 required nearly a year of rehabilitation, Johnson returned to her art with a new vision: to use her skills to bring art into the lives of young people. She soon connected with VSA arts of Georgia where she found exposure and advocacy for her work, professional development for her teaching goals, and “…all the things an artist needs to participate in the profession.”

A photo of Nicole Kelly

Nicole Kelly

Born without a left forearm, Nicole Kelly has continually challenged her disability, from childhood to representing Iowa in the 2013 Miss America competition. The self-described Broadway musical geek followed her older siblings into just about every extracurricular activity available to young people in her hometown, including dance and music and drama and sports. The theater world opened to her when she was selected as a VSA Apprentice at the prestigious Williamstown Theater Festival. Kelly calls the apprenticeship an invaluable experience, saying, “It catapulted this small town Midwestern girl into the day-to-day grit, as well as the glamour of major metropolitan theater, and helped me connect with other theater professionals who have helped me in my career.”

A photo of Blessing Offor

Blessing Offor

Accomplished singer and songwriter Blessing Offor is a 2010 VSA International Young Soloists Award winner. His performance on stage at the Kennedy Center captivated the audience, and in the years since then, his career has blossomed. Offor appeared on season 7 of The Voice, he performs regularly and writes music daily, blogs for The Huffington Post, and was recruited as a speaker by an internationally renowned speakers bureau. According to Offor, the VSA International Young Soloists Competition and performance helped validate the stature of his career and the performance recording was his short-form resume.

A photo of Tami Lee Santimyer

Tami Lee Santimyer

Tami Lee Santimyer’s love of performing began when she was a small child, studying dance in her hometown in Pennsylvania. Even though she could not hear music in the conventional sense, she found she had a knack for communicating its rhythms with her tiny body. When, in 2007, VSA and the Kennedy Center co-produced the children’s musical Nobody’s Perfect by Marlee Matlin and Doug Cooney, Santimyer, then a graduate student at Gallaudet, was the obvious choice to play the lead. The play was a landmark in accessible communication, seamlessly weaving American Sign Language, captioning, speech, and music into a funny, compassionate, and thought-provoking adaptation of the children’s book by the same title. In addition to her continuing involvement in theater, film, and television, Santimyer also works at Gallaudet University, encouraging the next generation of great ambassadors.

A photo of Cal Sheridan

Cal Sheridan

In 2013, Boise, Idaho native Cal Sheridan was selected as one of the winners of the VSA Playwright Discovery Program. He came to Washington, D.C. for a developmental workshop of his winning play, Cal Sheridan: Not Suffering at the Kennedy Center with theater professionals. Sheridan loves being a part of the theatrical experience, on stage crew as well as acting, but he especially loves telling a story. Right now Sheridan is working on the first season of a sitcom that he hopes to market to the likes of Netflix and Hulu.

A photo of Colette Young

Colette Young

A native Hawaiian who grew up the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Colette Young plays flute and piano, has been a church cantor, and studied ballet, modern, Hula, and Tahitian dance. Since her selection as a 2013 VSA International Young Soloists Award winner, Young has remained active in VSA activities, including contributing to the VSA International blog, presenting at conferences, and performing at events. At one event, Young was thrilled at “meeting Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith—where I had the honor of thanking her in person for what she has done for the young disabled artists of the world.” Young, who has dyslexia, has just finished two masters’ degrees from Columbia University’s Teachers College and is formulating a plan to work toward a doctorate that will bring together music, science, and disability issues.

Images of these extraordinary eight artists, along with more of their personal stories, will be on display in the VSA 40th Anniversary: Championing the Arts exhibition in the Kennedy Center’s Hall of States. The exhibition runs Thursday, July 16, 2015 through Sunday, August 2, 2015, and is free of charge.

Five Ways You Can Participate in the 25/40 Celebration

kencen-logoThe Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institution are hosting a huge celebration of arts, culture, and history this month, and we want you to be a part of the excitement! Whether you can join us in person or virtually, there are plenty of ways to participate in 25/40.

  1. Attend a Millennium Stage performance. From popular comedians to physically integrated dance, storytelling in American Sign Language to robotic musicians, the ten free Millennium Stage performances happening during 25/40 offer something for everyone. The best part? You can join us from anywhere in the world, since the performances stream live on the Kennedy Center’s website. After the live performances, the shows will be available to watch in the online Millennium Stage archive.
  2. Visit an exhibition. If you are in D.C., be sure to check out the six amazing exhibitions happening at the Kennedy Center and Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History as part of 25/40. They include works from the VSA Permanent Collection, works from previous VSA Emerging Young Artists Program winners, and collections that capture the significance and legacy of the ADA.
  3. See a film. The National Museum of American History is screening three films made by or about people with disabilities on July 25. Following each film, a curator will moderate a lively conversation among the audience members, directors, historians, or others connected to the production.
  4. Look for events in your own community. We are not the only ones celebrating these monumental anniversaries. Check out the list of related activities on the 25/40 website. You can also explore the U.S. Department of Labor’s new online timeline commemorating 25 years of the ADA and the ADA Legacy Project’s map of events.
  5. Connect with us and share your story. Follow VSA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get every update about 25/40. Then let us know how you are celebrating by using the hashtag #2540Celebration in your posts.

Your Guide to the 25/40 Celebration Website

The 25/40 Celebration website has launched!

Home Page

Here’s your key to understanding the 25/40 Celebration website, which will have everything you need to know related to the festivities.

25/40 celebrates two monumental anniversaries:

The 25th Anniversary of the signing of the American’s with Disabilities Act in 1990—an enormous step forward for civil rights and equal opportunity for people with disabilities. The impact of the ADA can hardly be overstated—it has irreversibly changed the course of the quality of life for millions of people across the U.S.

The founding of VSA, the international organization on arts and disability, 40 years ago earmarks 4 decades of commitment to providing quality arts and education programming to people with disabilities around the globe. With 52 international affiliates and a network of nationwide affiliates, 7 million people of all ages and abilities participate in VSA programs every year.

Here is everything you need to know about navigating the 25/40 website!

Home Page:  www.2540celebration.com

Home Page

This is the home page for the 25/40 site. In the top right corner (yellow arrow and circle) you’ll find the links to the rest of the site, including the About, Schedule of Events, How to Participate, Latest News, and Contact pages.

The green arrow points to a shortcut for viewing exciting Upcoming Events. Look here to see what’s coming up next, and click the “View more” to easily access the full Schedule of Events!

About Page: www.2540celebration.com/about-2540/

About 2540

The About Page contains more information about the event and participating organizations.  In the body, read about the event and the two anniversaries it’s celebrating.

If you look at the red arrow, you’ll see a highlighted link to learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you click on this it will take you to the official ADA page (www.ada.gov/ada_25th_anniversary/).

The blue arrow points to a similar link, except about VSA.  If you click on this, it will take you to the Kennedy Center’s Office of VSA and Accessibility page (www.kennedy-center.org/education/vsa/).

Finally, the green arrow and circle show where to find more information about VSA, 25/40’s Partners and Sponsors, and Related Anniversary events.

Find more descriptions of some of those pages below:

2540 partners and sponsors

On the Partners and Sponsors Page, read more about who made this incredible event possible, as well as a list of individuals and organizations to whom we’d like extend a special thanks.

2540 related anniversary eventsOn the Related Anniversary Activities Page, you can find out what else is happening in the DC area and beyond to celebrate these two anniversaries.  The green arrow points to where a list of events will be with details on date, time, location, and clickable links to more information.

*If you have an event you’d like featured, or know of one that we missed, please email vsainfo@kennedy-center.org and follow the directions on the page.

Schedule of Events Page: www.2540celebration.com/schedule-of-events/

Schedule of eventsOn the Schedule of Events Page you will find a list of events with location, time, and description.  The green arrow points toward an example, and below find a close up.

The red arrow points to the Calendar View button (with so many events, happening this is our favorite way to take it all in!) — click this to see all the events in an easy to view calendar format. Red events are at the Kennedy Center and blue events are at the Smithsonian Institution.  See image below:

Calendar ViewHere is a more detailed view of the events list:

schedule exampleThe blue arrow shows you where to find the date of every event and the red arrow points to the basic information (event title, location, and time).  The green arrow shows the accessibility accomodations offered for each event.

How Do I Participate? Page: www.2540celebration.com/how-do-i-participate/

How do i participateThis page gives you all the necessary information on getting to the Kennedy Center and Smithsonian Institution locations.  It provides addresses, information on parking and accessibility accomdoations, and other good stuff to help you join in the celebration.

Latest News Page: www.2540celebration.com/latest-news/

Latest newsAt the top right you can click the Latest News link and see all the updates via the VSAInternational Facebook page and everything tagged with #2540Celebration.  (Hint hint, if you want to see your post or tweet featured here, use the official Celebration hashtag!)  Keep up on Facebook by liking the VSA International page!

Contact Page: www.2540celebration.com/contact/

contact pageLast, but certainly not least, the Contact Page.  Here you can sign up for our mailing list, so you receive updates about all the exciting 25/40 happenings!  The red arrow points to where you can add your contact information, and the green circle shows the “Subscribe” button to add your name to our list.  (We promise we won’t spam you!) This way you’ll be the first to know about the latest and greatest of the Celebration.

Finally, the blue arrow points toward our contact information, giving you information for the Kennedy Center and Smithsonian Institution.

We hope you found this post useful and can’t wait to see you at the 25/40 Celebration!! If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below!#2540celebration

5 Reasons Your Boss Should Let You Attend Intersections

The 2014 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference is right around the corner, taking place July 23-25, 2014 in Alexandria, VA! We know how hard it can be to convince your boss that s/he should send you to a conference, so we thought we’d help out. Check out our five entertaining reasons your boss should let you attend Intersections below.

1.  As the street sign logo indicates, Intersections is the only conference of its kind that focuses on how arts education and special education intersect.


2. In the same vein as the Grinch’s heart, your brain will grow. Three times.

3. Serious networking! People in your field from around the world will be gathered in one place. You’ll have the opportunity to network, to develop new lesson plans, and to perhaps even find a new international partner organization!

Earth rotate
4. Your renewed excitement for your work will produce slam-dunk results!

otter playing basketball

5. Your boss will get three whole days in which s/he won’t have to answer your questions!


Are you excited to participate in Intersections? We certainly are!

Click the link below to save your spot today!

Why are you attending Intersections this year? Tell us in the comment box below!