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VSA North Fourth Art Center Makes Creating Art Accessible to All

By Melenda Smith

The gallery and rooms of the VSA North Fourth Art Center are brimming with creativity and talent. The art center showcases not just paintings, but illustrations, pottery, poetry, sewing projects, and more. The only difference between this art center and others is that most of its artists have developmental disabilities. Located in Albuquerque near North Valley, the VSA is a non-profit organization affiliated with The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and is part of the international VSA Arts Network.

The VSA North Fourth Art Center has grown both in size and offerings since 1992, when it first opened it doors. Says Susanna Kearny, Visual Arts Outreach Director, "VSA expanded into teaching both the visual and performing arts and from serving three-to-five individuals each day to serving nearly 200 individuals on a weekly basis. (It) is comprised of five classrooms, a clay studio, a fully equipped black box theater and an adjoining artist studio. This facility is home to three arts-based programs serving people with disabilities and two programs serving everyone in the Albuquerque arts community."

The VSA's Day Arts program is very popular with the disabled community and makes a variety of visual and performing art mediums accessible to individuals who would otherwise be excluded from these activities, especially those with cognitive disabilities. Classes offered include ceramics, painting, sewing, dancing, and musical theater. One of the VSA's longtime artists, Ralph Gonzales, was recently nominated by New Mexico State Representative Deborah Armstrong for the 2015 Governor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts.

VSA also offers an Arts Adventures program, for youth ages 7 to 18 with autism and their families. The program provides visual arts, digital arts, theater, creative movement and field trips to cultural locations to support the development of social skills.

The art center is also very involved with the surrounding community and city art events. "On the opening weekend of August, we had not one but three successful community events going on," says Kearny. "In N4th Gallery there was an ARTSCrawl reception for Craft in Albuquerque, which is on view through September 7, and features a beautiful selection of traditional and contemporary work by Albuquerque artisans. Later that Friday evening and on Saturday, there was a performance in N4th Theater presented by Albuquerque's new SHIFT Contemporary Dance Collective. And throughout that same weekend, VSA artists, staff and volunteers were at Expo New Mexico selling VSA artwork at the annual Great Southwestern Antique Show."

"Because of the unique perspective of its artists and its community involvement, there's always something interesting going on at VSA North Fourth Art Center."

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