VSA Festival will return as an in-person event on April 30 to celebrate artists with disabilities


After two virtual years of virtual events, the 46th annual VSA Festival will return to MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana on Saturday, April 30 to celebrate the artistic achievements of individuals with disabilities.

OCDE will team up once again with VSA Orange County to host the daylong event, which, as part of Arts Orange County’s annual “Imagination Celebration,” provides opportunities for students and adults with disabilities to exhibit artwork and showcase their talents in writing, dance, music, theater and visual art.

The festival, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 11 a.m. in Macy’s Court with an opening ceremony featuring performance vignettes based on the theme “Rise Up.”

“This year’s theme reflects a call to action for the creative spirit to ‘rise up’ from the challenges presented by the pandemic over the past two years,” said Marleena Barber, director of VSA Orange County. “We are proud of our students and artists who have demonstrated that creativity can thrive in even the darkest of circumstances.”

The festival will welcome back long-time friend and celebrity emcee William Allen Young, whose acting credits include “Code Black,” “This Is Us,” and “Moesha.” American Sign Language interpreter Paula Dunn will also reprise her role alongside Young.

Groups will perform on the main stage until 4 p.m., including students from Straight Up Abilities, Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center, Braille Institute, the Villa Fundamental Intermediate School Theatre Troupe (from the Santa Ana Unified School District), Creative Identity, Hope Center for the Arts, and cheerleaders from OCDE’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program at University High School in Irvine.

Art activities, a mall-wide scavenger hunt, an art exhibit and a resource fair will also be available to help the public learn more about arts and disability. Participating organizations include Autism Speaks, Beyond Blindness, Hope Center for the Arts, Hidden Truths Project and Alzheimer’s Orange County. VSA Orange County’s Small Paintings Project will be offered from 1 to 3 p.m. 

students making crafts

If you can’t make it on Saturday, you can still check out the Festival’s expansive art exhibit, which is scheduled to remain on display at MainPlace through May 9.

This year’s VSA Festival is sponsored by the Orange County Department of Education, VSA Orange County, MainPlace Mall and the Orange County Community Foundation.

For additional information, contact Marleena Barber, OCDE Visual and Performing Arts consultant and director of VSA Orange County, at s.mbarber@ocde.us.

Finally, we’ll leave you with this video montage from the 2017 VSA Festival to give a sense of the size and scope of the event.