Art is such an important outlet within our society, more so than many probably realize. Creativity is a form of expression. Art, in its various mediums, helps us process our thoughts and emotions, while also inciting a reaction from its viewers. It allows us to celebrate and memorialize important people in our lives, and on a larger scale, preserve monumental moments throughout history. It’s everywhere we look — from billboard advertisements to the statues at our local parks to the wall decor we buy to line our walls at home.

Yet, at the same time, it’s also becoming less of a priority within our society. In schools, creative programs are gradually being replaced with more educationally-forward classes. Unfortunately, this not only removes the creative outlets a lot of students look forward to during the day, but it can even dissuade some students from pursuing their dream of getting a degree and building a career within the art sector altogether.

For these reasons, it’s crucial that other organizations offer art initiatives to younger generations who are considering turning their passion into a full-fledged lifestyle. The Kennedy Center has something they call their VSA Emerging Young Artists Program that was designed specifically for artists with disabilities. Art is already a difficult world to break into without the added stress and financial limitations that come from living with a disability.

Every year, their national juried exhibition seeks fifteen artists between the ages of 16 and 25 who demonstrate important perspectives from beautiful artwork. Each of these fifteen artists will share over $60,000 in awards, with a grand prize of $20,000 being given to just one of the nominees. The winning artist will have their work displayed in a nationally touring exhibition for one year, and all artists will attend an all-expenses-paid professional development workshop in Washington, DC. 

Last year’s themed program, Connected, was focused on artwork that sparked a greater understanding of our connected world. This year’s program, Merge, asks artists to consider and combine their creative process and their disabled identities into their artwork. The Kennedy Center is still taking applications for this year’s program, so artists still have a chance to apply if they haven’t yet. The deadline has been extended until October 15th of this year.

If you’re interested in learning more about last year’s winners, along with the other themed programs of the past, you can visit the VSA Emerging Young Artists Program’s section on Kennedy Center’s website here.

For some, art is their entire identity. I’m proud to support an organization that helps support young artists to live out their dreams without the financial burden of paying their way through school themselves.