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

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Since 2002, VSA and Volkswagen Group of America have teamed up to recognize and showcase the work of emerging young artists living with disabilities, ages 16-25, who are currently residing in the United States. This collaboration creates opportunities for these artists at a critical time when many are making the life-defining choice to pursue arts-based careers. VSA and Volkswagen are committed to sustainability and investing in the future of young artists living with disabilities.

Every year, hundreds of emerging young artists living with disabilities compete to be included in a curated exhibition, formed around a unique theme, to be displayed in Washington, D.C. and then toured around the nation. After a rigorous adjudication process, 15 artists are selected to showcase their work and receive: 1) a $20,000 grand prize, a $10,000 first prize award, a $6,000 second prize award, and 12 $2,000 awards of excellence; 2) 2 days of all-expenses paid professional development workshops in Washington, D.C.; and 3) the opportunity to have their work displayed in an exhibition that opens in Washington, D.C. and tours for one year around the United States.

2016 - 2017 VSA Emerging Young Artists Program

This year's Emerging Young Artist program theme, (Re) Invention: Art + Innovation + Disability + Design, aims to showcase artwork created at the intersection of technology, innovation, and disability.

We're asking: "How have technology and innovation shaped your life in terms of your art and your disability? How has our global move toward technology inspired a re-discovery of traditional or analog arts, or a new take on existing artistic practices?" Through your art, we want to see how you interpret these thematic ideas.

Deadline was June 1, 2016

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 .