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Classic Arts Features Pioneers of the Arts VSA arts and the Kennedy Center pay tribute to emerging artists with disabilities who are pursuing a career in the arts.

To celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month this October, VSA arts and the Kennedy Center pay tribute to emerging artists with disabilities who are pursuing a career in the arts through a presentation of their work in the Hall of States. This showcase is an extension of the 2006 VSA arts/Volkswagen juried exhibit "Destination Anywhere" currently on display at the Smithsonian.

Congress designated October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month in 1988 to educate the public about issues related to disability and the employment needs of all individuals. VSA arts, having collaborated with the Kennedy Center on projects and programs for people with disabilities for more than 30 years, became an official affiliate of the Kennedy Center in October 2005. Together, the two organizations promote the arts as a tool to educate, empower, and employ people of all abilities.

Over the years, VSA arts has pioneered the arts as an inclusive strategy for learning and living for all people with disabilities. Its mission has always been to provide people with disabilities the opportunity to learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts. Programs are conducted through a network of affiliates in communities, cultural centers, and schools throughout the United States and in 60 countries.

Programs such as Let Your Style Take Shape and Start with the Arts™ harness creativity, encourage innovative thinking, and foster self-confidence. The VSA arts' Institute trains educators to integrate the arts into the curriculum of all students. Reaching beyond the classroom, VSA arts programs such as Playwright Discovery, International Young Soloists, Williamstown Theatre Festival Apprenticeship, Career Forums, and The Start with the Arts Festival provide technical assistance, financial incentives, and venues to expand artists' networks.

This year's theme, Americans with Disabilities: Ready for the Global Workforce, puts the spotlight on employment of people with disabilities and gives an opportunity to reflect on the progress made in tapping into a talented, skilled, and diverse pool of workers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990; however, major challenges still exist. Recent polls show that though persons with disabilities are eager for an opportunity to contribute their skills and abilities to employers, their overall unemployment rate is 70%. Jobs are the ticket to greater freedom, independence, and the chance to fully participate in and contribute to society.

People with disabilities bring great value to the workforce and a unique, yet underrepresented, perspective of diversity to the world. Investing in the arts is a way to build the skills that define the next employable workforce. Creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation are traits that are vital to the success of all industries. A focus on training the next generation of leaders for successful transition into employment is essential for the nation's future prosperity.

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