Studies have shown that, among people of all ages, artistic creativity provides an outlet for exploration, discovery, and expression that can significantly enhance both personal and academic success. Recently, in collaboration with America’s largest pharmaceutical provider, CVS Caremark, the international organization on arts and disability, VSA Arts, sought to tap into that potential and enrich the creative energies of children with disabilities.
The result of this joint endeavor is the “All Kids Can…Create! Program,” which just wrapped its third consecutive year in its mission to promote inclusive arts education for young people with disabilities. The theme of this year’s program was titled “State of the Art,” and drew from a call for representative samples of artistic achievement from young students from across the country. Participating in the program gave children the opportunity to take a closer look at their environments, at the traditions they continue within their own families, and at the ways in which they create art that reflects the roles children play within their unique communities.
“It’s truly an inclusive activity,” said president of VSA Arts, Soula Antoniou. “We’re inviting these young artists to express their engagement with their communities, and then to share their artwork in the online gallery. The focus of this program is on creativity and inclusivity, allowing kids of all abilities to participate side by side in the process of creating art.”
That process had a considerable amount of support. All 7,000 CVS Pharmacy store locations were involved in the effort, as was each member of VSA Arts’ nationwide network of affiliates. This June, the joint campaign will culminate in a national exhibition held in Washington, DC, where a sample of student artwork from every state and the District of Columbia will be displayed at the International VSA Arts Festival. All 51 selected artists will be invited to Union Station to celebrate the opening of the exhibition, and all artistic submissions to the project will be displayed both within an interactive kiosk and as part of an online gallery.
According to CVS Caremark Corporate Communications and Community Relations senior vice president, Eileen Howard Dunn, the aim of the Washington, DC exhibition is to collectively showcase the compelling ways in which children view the world around them. “Art is one of the great equalizers for children of all abilities, because personal expression exists in all of us,” Dunn said. “The millions of commuters and tourists who’ll see this exhibition will review the pieces of work not on the physical or mental capabilities of their creators, but by the lasting impression each piece reveals.”
This year’s International VSA Festival follows not long after the United States Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and will also coincide with the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This unique nexus of disability rights leadership and celebration will result in the largest gathering of the international arts and disability community in the world.
As VSA recognizes the arts as being a vital component in the education and inclusion of all people, an International Education Conference will also be featured as part of the festival. This gathering will allow scholars, educators, administrators, and artists to gain hands-on experience in effective practices for inclusive education, providing them with tools and techniques to share with colleagues in their own communities. In 2009, VSA affiliates conducted Artist-in-Residence programming in eight states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, as a result of their participation in “All Kids Can…CREATE!” five teachers received $1,000 for use in their classrooms last year.
Dunn believes the combined efforts of CVS and VSA Arts have only become more effective as each year has passed. “We’re engaging more and more young people in the value of creative expression,” Dunn said. “The program’s promotion of inclusion in our classrooms and communities has helped thousands of children of all abilities reach their goal of creating and expressing their artistic visions. We’re thrilled to be a part of the enthusiasm and excitement the children bring to the process each year.”