Dear RI Colleagues and Community,
A small RI arts & education nonprofit organization will soon be ending, following a successful three decades. During that time, it has helped artists become more visible and recognized, it has allowed young people to find their artistic voice and it has guided and encouraged state arts organizations to be more accommodating and welcoming to the needs of a significant portion of RI’s population – those with disabilities.
VSA arts Rhode Island, the state organization on arts and disability, is that nonprofit. As of January 1st, VSA changed its name to ‘Arts Equity’ and over the course of the next year will work to transition its critical arts programming to other like-minded organizations. The change in name and affiliation follows a decision last year by officials at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which runs the VSA Network, to end the affiliate structure and revoke state organizations, like VSA arts RI, from using the name as of December 31st, 2019.
Since 1986 when started by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith as Very Special Arts, we have worked diligently to create a Rhode Island where people with disabilities are welcomed in our state’s cultural community, have their talents celebrated and to ensure that we have equitable access as artists and patrons. While we are disappointed in the Kennedy Center’s decision, we remain committed to our mission of building accessible art communities that value diversity and honor differences. Over the last year, we have met with artists, donors, funders and representatives from arts, education and disability organizations in order to evaluate the organization’s current and future prospects; the feedback validates a continuing need for our unique services.
We know that there are still students with disabilities who do not have full access to an education in the arts in their classroom. We are well aware that there are still arts organizations providing programming that is inaccessible to those who are deaf or blind, who live somewhere on the autism spectrum or who use a mobility device that is not accommodated at an entrance door, an auditorium space or a restroom. We understand that most adult artists with disabilities continue to have major barriers to having their work seen and heard and earning even a portion of their living through the sale of their artistic endeavors. So please be assured that we are committed to finding permanent homes for the significant programming we have developed over the last 30+ years.
During the next months we will transition several of our longstanding programs and services – including our established RISD Museum and Allen Ginsberg Poetry initiatives – to compatible art and disability organizations to ensure their longevity and advancement. When we began in the 80s there were few organizations in the state providing arts programming to individuals with disabilities. Today, we are extremely happy to point to numerous arts, cultural and educational groups across the state that are our partners and now have their own programs for and provide accommodations to people with disabilities, offering greater participation and inclusion throughout our state. We are gratified that access for people with disabilities has grown to be a shared value held by many community organizations and are confident that they will continue the education and accessibility advocacy in the arts that we helped launch.
We also want to take this opportunity to thank our VSA family: Board of Directors, employees, volunteers, partners and participants who have committed their time, talents and expertise. We are proud of the work we have accomplished together and now look ahead to the next steps in all our journeys: valuing the arts as essential for all of us and making the arts available AND accessible to people of ALL abilities.
Please visit Arts Equity on social media to follow our progress.
Jeannine L. Chartier, Executive & Artistic Director
Dr. Rosemary Burns, Board of Directors President
Arts Equity, formerly VSA arts Rhode Island