VSA Emerging Young Artists Program

Scholarship Value: $20,000
Awards Available: 15

Our programs for artists with disabilities shape the future of the arts. The VSA Emerging Young Artists Program, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program, amplifies the voices of emerging artists with career development and professional empowerment. The competition seeks excellent work from emerging artists with disabilities residing in the United States.


Fifteen winning artists are selected by jury. Grand Prize is $20,000, First Prize is $10,000, Second Prize is $6,000, and the remaining Awards of Excellence are $2,000 each. For winning artists, one of the submitted artworks will be selected for a national exhibition. Artists attend professional development activities provided by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the application deadline is extended. Professional development opportunities will take place virtually and/or in-person as conditions allow.

Application Process

The application deadline is April 28, 2021. Artwork will be judged by a panel of experts looking for a high level of skill, expression of original ideas, and reflection of the Merge theme.

To request an accommodation or receive the application materials in an alternate format, contact vsainfo@kennedy-center.org at least two weeks prior to the entry deadline.

In addition to portfolio, application includes a written biography (2000 characters or fewer), an artist's statement (1000 characters or fewer), and optional demographic information.


A) Artist must be between the ages of 16 and 25 during the application window. With the 2021 extended deadline, birthdates between March 1, 1994 and April 28, 2005 are eligible.

B) Artist must reside in the United States for at least nine months of the year.

C) Artist must have a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.) This includes sensory, physical, cognitive, learning, socio-emotional disabilities and more. If selected, artist must be comfortable publicly identifying as an artist with a disability.

After the deadline, finalists will be contacted by email and asked to submit documents proving the above eligibility requirements prior to advancing to the final round. Eligibility documents include the following:

Proof of Disability (finalists only)

May include one of the following:

A) a letter from a doctor or other healthcare professional

B) a letter from a reputable disability association or organization, a professional counselor, or a representative of a college or university disability services office

C) Individualized Education Program (IEP) documents

D) a letter from the head of the IEP team

The document does not have to be recent but it must state the nature of the applicant's disability or disabilities.

Proof of Age (finalists only)

Must be a copy of a government issued ID, such as a passport, birth certificate, or driver's license. To be elegible, applicant must be born between March 1, 1994 and April 28, 2005.

Proof of US Residence (finalists only)

The applicant does not need to be US citizen, but must reside in the United States for at least 9 months of the year. Proof of US residency may include a lease or utility bill in the applicant's name, a student loan statement, a notarized affidavit of residency, a letter from a current employer, a letter from a teacher or professor, or another official document indicating current residency. International students must be residing in the US with a current student visa at the time of application.

Additional Requirements

A) Submitted artwork must be completed within the last 3 years, and after the onset of disability.

B) Submitted artwork must be able to withstand handling, storage, and transportation for a year-long, national tour.

C) 2-Dimensional artwork cannot exceed 60 inches in height or width.

D) 3-Dimensional artwork cannot exceed 48 inches in any direction when packed for shipping.

E) All art forms and media are eligible, except artwork containing perishable materials, such as food.

F) Applicant must be the sole creator and owner of all artwork submitted. Group projects will not be considered.

G) Work that suggests visual plagiarism, such as direct copy of another artists' work, will not be considered.

H) Winning artists must participate in the professional development activities (virtual or in-person) to receive their award.

I) Previous Emerging Young Artist Program award winners are not eligible to apply.

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