Annual arts and disability festival celebrates 45 years

“Sometimes people will judge others on the color of their skin and I want people to know that everyone should be treated equally.”

Those are the words that Abigail Enriquez, sixth-grader at Bryant Elementary in the Garden Grove Unified School District, expressed when her artwork was selected as the poster for the 45th annual VSA Festival.

“My artwork shows people holding hands,” she continued.VSA Festival 2021

Each year around this time, OCDE and VSA Orange County team up to spotlight the artistic achievements of individuals with disabilities. The VSA Festival is typically a free, daylong event held at MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana on a Saturday in April, but the festival has gone virtual for a second year in a row. This year’s theme is “Be Brave, Be Kind, Be You.”

The online festival will once again feature links to a variety of offerings such as a 200-piece art gallery, performance videos, activities to help students learn more about individuals with disabilities, and a special video message from actor William Allen Young.

Young, who’s known for his roles in “Code Black,” “This Is Us,” and “Moesha,” has emceed the event’s opening ceremonies for more than three decades and will be accompanied by American Sign Language interpreter Paula Dunn.

The virtual celebration begins Saturday, April 24 and can be found by clicking on the link below. (The link will not be live until day of the event.) 

Opening ceremonies will commence at 10 a.m. with special virtual performances by the Braille Institute’s Johnny Mercer Youth Choir, and the Rollettes, an all women’s professional wheelchair dance team that empowers women with disabilities all over the world.

Albeit in an online format for another year, VSA Orange County Director Marleena Barber says having more time to plan this year’s festival provided the opportunity to integrate new elements.

“Last year we had just three weeks to pivot from our in-person event to a virtual one,” said Barber. “In having more time to plan this year, we were able to provide new programming into the festival website such as the live weekend workshops, pre-recorded arts workshops, and a ‘Festival Shop’ where attendees can purchase artwork on T-shirts, mugs, face masks and bags.”

Free pre-recorded workshops and more

As Barber noted, for the first time the festival website will include a workshop page featuring 10 free, pre-recorded arts workshop videos provided by community arts organizations such as ASPIRE Creative Arts Program, Braille Institute, the Butterfly House, Hope Center for the Arts, Segerstrom Center for the Arts Studio D. Arts School for All Abilities, Straight Up Abilities, Well Beings Studio and VSA Orange County.

Additionally, the festival will hold four free live visual art, dance and music workshops on April 24 and April 25. And guests can also take part in an online, interactive scavenger hunt for all ages to encourage exploration of the festival’s offerings.

Registration for live workshops can be found by clicking this link.

A signature OC event

Sponsored by OCDE, VSA Orange County began its program in 1976, and the festival is part of the countywide Imagination Celebration.

The event has become a signature event for residents, giving students and adults associated with special education programs throughout the county a chance to showcase their talents in creative writing, dance, music, theater and visual arts.

“While the main goal of the festival is to celebrate the artistic accomplishments of individuals with disabilities, it truly provides the artists and the community with so much more,” said Barber.

“It is an opportunity for our artists to be seen while raising awareness and education and spreading a message that the arts can be accessible to people of all abilities.”

For additional information, please visit the VSA Orange County website.