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The Kennedy Center

VSA Emerging Young Artists Program
A Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program

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Since 2002, the Kennedy Center and Volkswagen Group of America have teamed up for the VSA Emerging Young Artists Program, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program, to recognize and showcase the work of emerging young artists with disabilities, ages 16-25, who are residing in the United States. Fifteen winning artists share a total of $60,000 in awards. Grand Prize is $20,000, First Prize is $10,000, Second Prize is $6,000, and the remaining Awards of Excellence are $2,000 each. Winners exhibit their selected artwork in a year-long nationally touring exhibition, and attend an all-expenses-paid professional development workshop in Washington, DC.

2017-2018 VSA Emerging Young Artists Program

Art should excite our senses, awaken our curiosity, and electrify our very being. It has the ability to invigorate and empower the artist and viewer alike, but just as important, art can spark empathy and ignite understanding.

This year's VSA Emerging Young Artists Program's theme is Electrify!, and we're seeking artwork that is charged with ideas, that acts as a conduit for creative reflection on the past, explores the "now," and invokes a future full of possibility and inclusivity.

The application deadline has passed but check back here to apply next year.

2016 - 2017 VSA Emerging Young Artists Program

(Re) Invention showcases artwork that exemplifies themes of renewal and self-discovery– of reinvention.

September 13, 2016 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC

September 14, 2016 – October 14, 2017 Volkswagen Group of America Headquarters
Herndon, VA

November 14, 2016 – January 13, 2017 Dedalus Foundation
Brooklyn, NY

January 13, 2017 – March 4, 2017 Dyer Arts Center
Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester, NY

March 17 – May 21, 2017 The Hunter Museum of American Art
Chattanooga, TN

July 14 – July 31, 2017 The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC

September 29 – November 19, 2017 Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Scottsdale, AZ

2015: Focus Forward

In 2015 the Kennedy Center celebrated the 25th ADA/40th VSA Anniversary Celebration, which honored the history, art, and culture of the disability community. The Celebration, which took place in July at the Center, included Focus Forward, a retrospective featuring the work of previous VSA Emerging Young Artist Program participants.

2014: The Journey

Emerging young visual artists with disabilities, ages 16-25, reflect on the theme The Journey- internal and external, personal and communal, human and technological – our journeys shape our aesthetic and environmental terrain and define our daily lives.

To read more about the 2014 VSA Emerging Young Artists and to see the artworks selected for display in the traveling exhibition, please click here: The Journey Catalogue

September 15, 2014 -
January 6, 2015
Smithsonian Institution
S. Dillon Ripley Center
Washington, DC
January 6, 2015
Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC
January 7 -
January 30, 2015
Volkswagen Group of America Headquarters
Herndon, VA
April 2015
VSA Colorado / Access Gallery
Denver, CO
May -June 2015
Black Hills State University
Spearfish, SD
June - July 2015
Milwaukee, WI

2013: In/finite Earth

In/finite Earth asked emerging young artists to showcase work that illuminates innovative viewpoints at the intersection of environmentalism, creativity, and disability. Regardless of continent, country, or culture, over six billion people draw sustenance from the shared resources of our planet, repercussions for which are still unfolding. In/finite Earth is a call to artists to engage in the physical, emotional, and creative ties we share across our planet, and present their artistic perspectives regarding the natural world, sustainability, and our collective future.

For more information on In/finite Earth, click here .

2012: Sustaining / Creating

Sustaining / Creating asked emerging young artists to showcase work that illuminates innovative viewpoints on sustainability and contemporary creativity. Beyond its scientific definition, sustainability references notions of responsibility and stewardship of our natural world in all facets of human interaction–from the environmental to the cultural. Sustainability indicates the capacity to endure.

In October 2013, VSA sent Sustaining / Creating to St. Petersburg, Russia where it was exhibited at The Russian Museum. The exhibition highlighted the nascent talent and artwork of past emerging young artists who portrayed unique and innovative viewpoints regarding sustainability, contemporary creativity, and their individual experience of living with a disability. Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, founder of VSA, expressed her thoughts about the exhibition which you can watch by clicking on the following video. One of the artists, Will Copps, accompanied the exhibition to Russia. Read about his experience at

click to play the video Jean Kennedy Smith at the 2010 International VSA Festival Opening Ceremony: Phil Wolf. View captioned video Watch the audio describe version

For more information on Sustaining / Creating, click here .

2011: Momentum

Momentum asked emerging young artists to examine the creative spark behind their work. What is the force that drives their artistic interest? What informs the path they take each day as they move toward their future? The resulting exhibition showcased the diverse viewpoints and variety of creative processes of these artists as they gain momentum in their artistic trajectories.

For more information on Momentum, click here .