In 1986, with a dedicated board of directors, part time executive director (Mary Ellen Horan), a borrowed desk, filing cabinet and typewriter (yes, typewriter), Very Special Arts Nevada (VSAN) was founded as the 49th member to become a state affiliate of Very Special Arts, an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  VSAN shared a corner space of Sierra Arts Foundation’s offices in Reno.  Originally, VSAN festivals were the major focus with busloads of special education students participating in day-long arts activities at the Pioneer Center for Performing Arts in Reno.

VSAN later moved offices with Sierra Art Foundation to 200 Flint Street.  In 1989, the part time VSAN executive director position became full time with the International Winter Special Olympics being held in Reno/Lake Tahoe. VSAN played an integral part in the festivities providing extensive hands-on arts activities and several performances for the athletes and the public.  In 1995, Mary Barker joined the organization.  In 1996, outgrowing office space and wanting to expand programming, VSAN offices moved to the historic Lake Mansion in Reno adding the preservation and maintenance of the mansion to their mission.  In 2004, under the direction of VSAN, the Lake Mansion was moved to the corner of Court Street and Arlington Avenue in Reno’s Arts District. VSAN became the owner and operator of the Lake Mansion in 2007.

VSA Nevada, now Arts for All Nevada, conducts over three thousand workshops each year throughout the state for ALL individuals, provides arts and disability advocacy, and cultural access activities.

History of VSA (national/international)

VSA, the international organization on arts and disability, was founded in 1974 by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith to provide arts and education opportunities for people with disabilities and increase access to the arts for all.  With 52 international affiliates and a network of nationwide affiliates, VSA is changing perceptions about people with disabilities around the world.  Each year, 7 million people of all ages and abilities participate in VSA programs, in every aspect of the arts – from visual arts, performing arts, to the literary arts. VSA is an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

VSA is a pioneer in the field of arts and disability and has been a leader in changing society’s attitudes toward people with disabilities. As society evolves, the attitudes and language used by the disability community also evolves.

When founded in 1974, the organization was named the National Committee – Arts for the Handicapped. In 1985 the name changed to Very Special Arts. Since words such as “special” and “handicapped” do not reflect current language trends in the United States and many other countries, in 1999 we became VSA arts to reflect these changing language trends. In 2010, it became simply VSA – The International Organization on Arts and Disability and VSA Nevada in our state.

Although VSA Nevada has changed our name to Arts for All Nevada, we remain the State Affiliate for VSA.

Four principles guide Arts for All Nevada:

  • Every young person with a disability deserves access to high quality arts learning experiences.
  • All artists in schools and art educators should be prepared to include students with disabilities in their instruction.
  • All children, youth, and adults with disabilities should have complete access to cultural facilities and activities.
  • All individuals with disabilities who aspire to careers in the arts should have the opportunity to develop appropriate skills.