VSA Minnesota

Purpose and Programs

VSA Minnesota is a nonprofit organization that was incorporated in 1986.  VSA Minnesota is part of the national and international network of organizations aligned with the VSA and Accessibility program in the Education Department of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.  The network includes 36 state affiliates and 52 international affiliates.

Mission Statement

To create a community where people with disabilities learn through, participate in and access the arts.The Evolution of the VSA name: 

1974: National Committee - Arts for the Handicapped
1985: Very Special Arts
1999: VSA arts
2010: VSA

Explaining the name: VSA was long known as Very Special Arts. Words such as ‘special’ and ‘handicapped’ do not reflect current language trends in the United States and many other countries. Therefore, we are now just VSA.

Guiding Organizational Goals

  • Every space and program dedicated to the arts in the State of Minnesota will be accessible and available to people with disabilities.
  • Public school arts programs and curricula will be available to and designed for students with disabilities.
  • Societal attitudes and governmental regulation will not deter people with disabilities from pursuing the arts as a career or a leisure time pursuit.

Programs & Services

Programs & Services Impacting Children with Disabilities (Direct & Indirect)

Artist-in-Residence Programs

  • Statewide, primarily in public school classrooms serving students where the majority have disabilities, more than a one-time experience

Professional Development for Artists, Teachers and Paraprofessionals

  • Statewide, serving individuals who work with students with disabilities in and through the arts in schools, community arts centers and other community settings
  • Arts Ambassador Classroom Presentations to students with and without disabilities
  • Disability Awareness through the arts and Careers in the Arts for people with disabilities; Made available to students with disabilities in transition years (14-21) and general education at all other ages

Programs & Services Promoting Professional and Career Development of Adult Artists

Emerging Artist Grant Program
  • Competitive, juried grant program for artists with disabilities who have achieved a level of excellence in their work and who are attempting to pursue the arts as a career.  Application deadline is in November with seven grants of $1,500 being awarded each year.  The program is made possible through funds provided by the Jerome Foundation.

Artists with Disabilities Careers Support

  • Technical and networking assistance provided to artists with disabilities seeking information and emotional support for their efforts to develop a career in the arts.  This has included workshops, one-to-one support, information sharing and employment opportunities through VSA Minnesota sponsored artist residencies, festivals, exhibits, performances and presentations.

Programs & Services Promoting Access to the Arts in the General Public

Access Assistance to Minnesota Arts Organizations

  • Statewide, technical assistance so that arts organizations can better meet the needs of employees, volunteers, and patrons with disabilities in their facilities and through their programs; 
  • ADA Access Improvement Grants for Metro Arts Organizations provides funding to support long-term improvements to accommodate people with disabilities

Annual Arts Access Awards

  • Recognition of organizations and individuals who work to forward the issue of accessibility in their communities; those recognized receive the Jaehny Award, named in honor of Jaehn Clare, one of the founding board members of the organization, and an artist with a disability

Access to Performing Arts Program

  • Funding is provided to state performing organizations to assist them in their provision and marketing of American Sign Language (ASL), Audio Description and captioning services to people who are Deaf, blind or who have low vision

Programs & Services Promoting Public Awareness and Outreach

Community Art Exhibits

  • Exhibits of work by Minnesota artists with disabilities in locations around the state to showcase their abilities and offer them an opportunity to sell their work and to provide an awareness vehicle for the organization

Community Arts Events

  • Festivals and other short-term, participatory arts events and activities designed for children or adults in community settings led by trained artists and focusing on the development of leisure-time pursuits through the arts.

Arts Access Newsletter 

  • Published 2-3 times per year and distributed to approximately 5,000 recipients in regular print and various alternative formats



Minnesota Involvement in National VSA Programming (www.vsarts.org)

Young Soloists Competition

  • This annual competition for children and young people 25 and under who have a dis-ability seeks excellent musical performers.  Competition winners perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.  Minnesota has had competition winners in 1995, 2009 and 2011

National Calls-for-Art and other initiatives usually directed at children with disabilities

Playwright Discovery Competition

  • This annual competition for children ages 13-18 seeks original one-act plays on the topic of disability.  Writers do not have to have a disability to enter.  Competition winners have their plays produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.  Competition winners have come from Minnesota in 1989, 1996 and 2003

Funding Sources

Funding is provided to VSA Minnesota by the following foundations, agencies and corporations:
  • Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education
  • McKnight Foundation
  • Jerome Foundation
  • Minnesota Department of Education – Special Education Section
  • Minnesota State Arts Board
  • Metropolitan Regional Arts Council
  • General Mills Foundation


Craig Dunn has been the Executive Director at VSA Minnesota since August of 1992.  Prior to that he was a member of the Board of Directors for four years and served as the board’s President from 1989 until July of ’92.  Craig’s background is as a music therapist & educator having worked primarily with students with developmental disabilities in Wisconsin and Minnesota schools for 13 years.  Jon Skaalen has been with VSA Minnesota since August, 1999 and is the Arts Access Coordinator.  His primary responsibilities are the Access to Performance program and the new ADA Access Improvement Grants for Metro Arts Organizations program.  He also oversees the Emerging Artist Grant program funded by the Jerome Foundation.  Jon comes to VSA Minnesota following work as a newspaper editor in south-western Minnesota, a staff writing position at PACER and from the Minnesota Association of Community Theatres.  Jenea Rewertz-Targui is the Arts in Education Coordinator and has been with us since September, 2008.  Jenea directs all the programs that occur in schools including our artist residency and Arts Ambassador programs and our annual school festival.  She also coordinates our professional development program that assists teachers, artists and teaching artists in better meeting the needs of students with disabilities in and through the arts. 

VSA Minnesota
Hennepin Center for the Arts
528 Hennepin Avenue,
Suite 305
Minneapolis, MN  55403