Show 78 - VSA

Listen to Show 78

This episode tells you all about an arts exhibition for artists with disabilities. Be chosen and you can gain recognition, attend a reception on Capital Hill, and win lots of money. Learn more by visiting the VSA website at And follow them on Facebook,

Don't forget to email me at if you enter!

See pictures and learn more about past winners at and


Beth Case: Hello and welcome to the Disability411 podcast, episode number 78. I'm Beth Case, your host, and I have a very fun interview for you all today. This is with Jennifer Wexler from VSA, and she's going to be talking about an art exhibition for artists with disabilities. And if you are an artist and you have a disability, you have a chance to win a whole lot of money and get a lot of exposure for your work. So I hope you enjoy this interview.


Beth: I'm really excited today to have with me Jennifer Wexler from VSA and I'll let her explain what that is in a minute. Jennifer, thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

Jennifer Wexler: Thanks for having me!

Beth: So let's start with that question. Why don't you tell us what VSA is?

Jennifer: Sure. VSA is the International Organization on Arts and Disability. We are the world's leading arts education and disability organization. We focus on artists who have disabilities and their art. And our goal is to really reframe preconceived notions about what people with disabilities can do.

Beth: No, I wanted to talk to you because of this, I guess, would you call it a competition? Or an exhibition? Called "Momentum".

Jennifer: It is an exhibition opportunity. It's an exhibition opportunity for emerging visual artists with disabilities, who live in the United States. You need to be between fifteen and twenty-five. And it's actually an annual opportunity that we present with the Volkswagen Group of America.

Beth: Huh. So how did Volkswagen get involved with disabilities?

Jennifer: Volkswagen has always had an interest in disabilities and in people with disabilities. In fact, they do a lot of work to make their cars accessible for people with mobility impairments and disabilities. So this is just a focus that they had and they were seeking an organization that held similar beliefs and values. And came upon us and decided to throw their support behind disability and the arts.

Beth: That's great. I drive a Volkswagen myself, so I'm kinda proud of that now!

Jennifer: That's great.

Beth: Ok, so you mentioned that this is an exhibition opportunity for people with disabilities, you said of ages sixteen to twenty-five. But you also mention that it was a visual arts competition. So what counts as "visual arts"? Why kind of things are you looking for?

Jennifer: So, we look for works in all mediums. Painting, sculpture, drawing, prints, anything two-dimensional. We also accept submissions in film and digital art, any type of new media. And installation as well, so it's really wide open.

Beth: [Speaker 3] So what kind of disabilities is it open to? Anyone? Or do you have a criteria for the different types of disabilities?

Jennifer: Out definition of disability follows that of the ADA. So it's really any impairment that affects a major life activity. So it's open to people with physical disabilities, cognitive disabilities, we're had artists who, they run the spectrum.

Beth: So is this a competition? Are you limited to how many artists you can accept into the exhibition? Are there criteria for being accepted to be able to show?
Jennifer: The exhibition will feature the work of 15 artists. There is, in fact, prize money associated with this.

Beth: That's always nice!

Jennifer: Yes! Volkswagen, in addition to providing the money to execute the program, they also provide sixty thousand dollars in cash awards. So it is a great incentive for artists who are at the point where they're considering a career in the arts and it really helps give that financial boost. And also helps validate.

Beth: It would give them a lot of visibility, too, I would think.

Jennifer: Exactly! The exhibition will go up this fall. It will be up September through January at the Smithsonian Institution S. Dillon Ripley Center. So it's right here in the heart of Washington, D.C. The International Mall gets a lot of visitors while it's up. It's a great resume booster, too!

Beth: I wonder if I could get up there to see it and do a follow-up podcast? That would be great!

Jennifer: That would be fantastic!

Beth: I'll have to look into that, see if I can get up there, maybe meet some of the artists or something. That would be fantastic. So we're accepting donations to "Send Beth to Washington, D.C. this Fall"!

Jennifer: That sounds great!

Beth: Now I noticed too that the artists that are selected for the exhibition, it's possible for them to actually sell their work.

Jennifer: Yes, certainly! The works are available for sale. We don't take any type of commission. All the proceeds go directly to the artists. And in addition, the exhibition after debuting here in Washington, D.C., goes on a national tour for two years of the year college and university museums and art galleries. So in addition to everyone who will see it here in D.C., there's a lot of possibility and opportunity to get your work out across the nation.

Beth: I didn't realize that part, that's really cool. So what does someone need to do? If they're an artist with a disability and they want to submit their work, what's the process?

Jennifer: They should go to our website, which is

Beth: And we'll have that in the shownotes.

Jennifer: Thank you!

Beth: To make it easy for everyone to find, yes.

Jennifer: There is a button on the home page called "Momentum", which is the theme of this year's exhibition. And from there, all of the information is available on how to submit. We ask artists to submit four pieces of work for consideration, and answer a few short questions, ask a little bit about how their work relates to the theme "Momentum", and then we convene a jury of arts professionals to adjudicate the work based on aesthetic merit alone. There's no information on who the artist is, what the artist's disability is, purely aesthetically judged.

Beth: Oh, ok. So when someone's submitting their work for review, they're not actually sending you their painting or their sculpture or whatever. They're submitting a photo of it for the first step, right?

Jennifer: That's correct. Unfortunately, we just don't have the space to receive everybody's physical artwork.

Beth: The shipping could get expensive, too!

Jennifer: That too, that too. We want to minimize costs for everybody involved. The application is an online application. You are submitting a digital image of your artwork, uploading it to site called Cafe, which is And all that information is available on our website as a link directly to the application.

Beth: And just a heads-up, guys, that they do have some restrictions on the themes. You should not submit work that has inappropriate language, that contains religious or political themes, or has excessive nudity. So, if you're working on your artwork, just make sure that you're following those guidelines. Cause this is a family show.

Jennifer: Exactly, exactly. VSA serves primarily a K-12 population with a lot of our programs, so we want to make sure that everything is accessible and is in a comfortable environment for families to enjoy as well.

Beth: Well, this is really exciting. I love projects like this that encourage creativity, and then, I really like the fact that you said that everything i judged without knowing what the disability is of the artist. So they're just judged purely on their quality and aesthetic appeal. Because I think so often, you get things like, "That's really good for someone with a disability." And in this case, that's not even a factor. They're just looking at "Is it good?" I really like that.

Jennifer: Exactly, You know, we had heard that all too often. And it's a really unfortunate situation. At VSA, we want to show excellent artwork and the fact that the artist has a disability is secondary. I mean, it's clearly important to the conversation, and in many artworks, the disability informs the artwork or informs the method, and that's an interesting story to share, but we really want to show artwork that has aesthetic merit in buildings that are accessible to all people and that can stand alongside the greatest artists that are working today.

Beth: I love it. Ok, so Jennifer, you said that Volkswagen was giving $60,000 in cash awards. Is that all go to one person, is it divided up over first place, second place, and so forth? Or how does that work?

Jennifer: Sure. It's divided up among the 15 artists. The grand prize awardee receives $20,000.

Beth: Nice!

Jennifer: The first awardee receives $10,000, the second, $6,000. And then there are 12 awards of excellence which comes in at $2,000. And I should also mention that Volkswagen generously provides the travel money to bring in the top three awardees to be honored at a Congressional reception on Capital Hill. And more often than not, the rest of the artists find the money to come in, too. Which is really great. So we usually end up having most of the artists on Capital Hill. We distribute the checks at that time, they have the opportunity to meet their Senators and Congressmen, and it just becomes a really nice celebration.

Beth: That sounds fantastic! Now I really have to try and get there! I want to see this, that would be great!

Jennifer: You really do!

Beth: I'll also point out that VSA has a Facebook page and I signed up, I don't know, a week or two ago, and they send out all kinds of really interesting and useful information on their Facebook page. So that's at And I'll put that in the shownotes, too, so you can just find out what else they are up to.

So, Jennifer, again, I'm just, I'm excited about this. I can't wait to see what gets submitted and what wins this year. I believe we're going to have some photos that we can put onto the Disabiliyt411 website of some past submissions?

Jennifer: Yes, absolutely.

Beth: And so be sure and visit to see those. Be sure and visit the VSA website for details and get your artwork submitted. You know, if anyone out there listening to this show ends up submitting something for this exhibition, email me and let me know. It would just be really interesting to see if any of my listeners submit something. Whether or not you end up being chosen, I'd just be curious to see if you submit anything.

Ok, now, what's the deadline for submitting materials?

Jennifer: The deadline is June 10th. You have a little bit of time, but it might be worth starting to think about your ideas now.

Beth: Alright, everyone, get out there and start designing! Alright, Jennifer, thanks again, so much.

Jennifer: You're welcome.


Beth: So does that sound like fun, or what? Visit the Disability411 website at to find all the links and all the information you need to know to apply for this exhibition. And of course, you can listen to all of our past shows, find transcripts for this and all of our past shows, blog entries, and anything else I feel like putting up there. Until next time, this is Beth Case with the Disability411 podcast.

The Disability411 podcast is protected by the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike 3.0 United States License which means you can share our podcast, you just can't make any money off it. Visit our website at to find show notes, past shows and transcripts of all the episodes as well as useful links, blogs and much more. Email us at Music brought to you by the Brobdingnagian Bards and used with permission.