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A FAQ Sheet from the VSA Minnesota Board of Directors
Addressing Issues Around the Organization’s Planned Closing

Why will VSA Minnesota close its doors at the end of September 2019? It seemed like everything was going well.
During the past six years, the organization has had fewer and fewer private funding sources to support its work. When the national VSA organization was de-funded by Congress in 2011, the organization lost $80,000 in annual VSA affiliation funding. Two years later, Minnesota’s Department of Education changed funding priorities resulting in another annual cut of $20,000. Decisions to end long-time relationships by the General Mills Foundation in 2015 and the Jerome Foundation earlier this year resulted in cuts to both operating and program support.

Support from the Metro Regional Arts Council, the Minnesota State Arts Board and individual donors has been strong but it has not been strong enough to balance the losses from the private sector. The board of directors did not feel confident that prospects for future private funding sources would improve. While there is a strong belief in VSA Minnesota’s mission within our community, we simply cannot raise adequate funding from grants, individual donors, and other sources to continue operating beyond 2019. As the result of a facilitated strategic planning process, the Board of Directors therefore unanimously made the difficult decision to close the organization’s doors in late 2019 at its October 2018 board meeting.

Is there no way to save the organization?
In the absence of contributions well into the six-figure range by an individual or group of individuals, there is no obvious viable route to continuing VSA Minnesota’s operations.

A couple of other things should also be said. VSA Minnesota has been down a staff member since January 2014 when Jenea Rewertz-Targui resigned as Arts in Education Coordinator to take a similar position at the Ordway. Funding has not been sufficient to refill that position, resulting in the Executive Director taking on those responsibilities. Additionally, Craig Dunn, the organization’s E.D. for the past 26 years, gave the board notice four years ago of his planned retirement in 2020. This imminent loss of leadership and expertise, combined with the shrinking resource base, makes closure a necessary decision.

Are there other ways the organization’s programs and services might continue?
We are happy to say that we have identified organizations to take on or adopt three of our long-standing programs. Springboard for the Arts has agreed to incorporate our services to artists with disabilities into their program offerings. Likewise, COMPAS will be absorbing our school arts programming for students with disabilities and special education needs. The Metro Regional Arts Council, which has funded our ADA Improvement Grants for the past nine years, will administer the program in-house beginning in October 2019. In the coming months, we will work to find organizational stewards for our access assistance services, our Accessible Arts Calendar and for the artist with disabilities grant program. We are confident that our search for program partners will be successful and that the work begun during our organization’s 33 years of existence will continue.

What do your grant funders think about closing the organization?
All of our grantors and contractors were surprised and saddened to hear of the board’s decision. However, all were heartened to learn of our success in identifying new homes for some of our programs as noted above. The McKnight Foundation has agreed to provide one final year of funding through an exit grant. This will allow us to maintain operations through the end of September and meet our key financial obligations before the final close.

What do the staff think and how are they a part of the process?
Craig Dunn and Jon Skaalen have been part of the strategizing process that the board undertook during the past year guided by staff from Propel Nonprofits. Craig and Jon both wish that the board could have found a way to maintain the organization’s viability. At the same time, they each know that foundation operating support sources are few and understand that none of our board members or long-time supporters had the means to be the organization’s salvation.

How will you honor and celebrate the legacy of VSA Minnesota?
We will navigate these final ten months with transparency, integrity and candor. We will continue to search for organizational homes for programs that do not, as of yet, have a home. We will fulfill all of our remaining program obligations including awarding $12,000 to six artists with disabilities, $165,280 to metro area arts organizations through our ADA Improvement grant program and conducting six artist residency programs in classrooms for students with special education needs.

During the summer of 2019, we will celebrate our organization’s past and present with:

  • Performances by artists with disabilities at the 29th anniversary of the passage of the ADA on July 26th;
  • An exhibit of new artwork created by the 2018 Emerging Artist Grant recipients, probably at Springboard for the Arts’ new location on University Avenue in St. Paul;
  • A celebration with VSA Minnesota constituents – artist and arts patrons with disabilities, arts & disability organizations, educators, students, teaching artists – as well as our program stewards – Springboard for the Arts, COMPAS, Metro Regional Arts Council and any others who will carry on the VSA Minnesota torch.
  • Finally, we hope to find a home for the organization’s archives and artifacts that have accumulated for more than three decades. The specific site has not yet been determined.

    How can I honor the legacy?
    VSA Minnesota’s work has been most successful when individuals and organizations have fused the concept of accessibility to the way they work in the arts. Our mantra of not ignoring the abilities, experiences and needs of children, artists and arts patrons with disabilities has been heard and assimilated by thousands over our 32-year history and has led to an exponential growth in arts access awareness.

    To honor VSA Minnesota’s legacy, we ask that you put that awareness into action. Exercise your advocacy skills for access to the arts for people with disabilities. If you are part of an arts organization, make sure you are part of that organization’s efforts in its outreach to and inclusion of people with disabilities. If you are an arts patron and see access shortcomings, make sure you bring those shortcomings and potential solutions to the attention of that organization’s staff. Support the efforts that COMPAS, Springboard for the Arts and the Metro Regional Arts Council will be making to continue VSA Minnesota’s mission by volunteering, contributing or serving on an access committee or grant panel. Finally, offer your time to the Minnesota State Arts Board or to the 11 regional arts councils around the state to serve on grant review panels or committees that address how state dollars are used to bring the arts to all Minnesotans – including those with disabilities.

    What can I do to support you in the final phase of the organization?
    While we have most of the funds needed to complete this year’s programming, we still must raise at least $20,000 budgeted from individual donors to support the organization’s operations through September 30. (This does not yet include any funds for a final celebration.) Please consider donating so that we can close out and adequately prepare our stewards and constituents for the transition (click to donate, every bit counts!). If our fundraising exceeds our needs, we will re-grant the balance to our program stewards and other mission-aligned organizations.

    I have more questions, whom do I contact?
    Staff and the 11 members of the Board of Directors will be available to answer questions and take comments at info@vsamn.org or 612-332-3888. Thanks in advance for your patience awaiting a response during this busy period.

    VSA Minnesota Celebrations

    Here are selected highlights of this organization’s past 33 years.

    1986-present – Approximately 12,000 students, most of them with disabilities, have participated in arts instruction as the result of VSA Minnesota programs. In addition, more than 250 arts specialists, teaching artists and classroom teachers have participated in VSA Minnesota-led professional development offerings.

    June, 1989 – 17 people from Minnesota attend the first International Very Special Arts Festival in Washington, DC; Nicci Hagenah (deceased 8/2/16) is selected as recipient of VSA’s annual Young Playwrights’ Award for her play, Sweet Chariot. Later Young Playwrights’ winners from Minnesota were: 1996 Jesse Hove of Apple Valley, and 2003 Allyson Hogan of Worthington.

    April, 1990 – VSAMN hosts performance of Access Theatre from Santa Barbara, CA at World Theatre in St. Paul

    May, 1994 – First Emerging Artist Grants awarded by VSAMN (provided through VSA funds)

    1994 – VSAMN works with Resources & Counseling for the Arts (now Springboard for the Arts) and the Metro Regional Arts Council to produce, Art Town, a resource & access guide to arts in the 7-county metropolitan area;

    1994 – Seven Minnesota delegates attend the International Very Special Arts Festival in Brussels, Belgium.

    1995 – Vocalist Stephanie (Stomberg) Dawn, Bemidji, became the first Minnesotan to win the national VSA-sponsored Young Soloists competition for performers with disabilities. Three others were to follow: 2010: Aria Stiles, Apple Valley, violin; 2012: William Eisenberg, Minnetonka, French horn; 2018: Madeline Sheard, Maple Grove. Other State Young Soloist Winners have included: 2008: Loc Tran, Mounds View, piano/composition; 2011: Amber Hougo, St. Paul, guitar; 2011: Rachel Hastings, Maple Grove, classical piano (junior division).

    1996-2018 – Over 22 years VSA Minnesota’s grant program for artists with disabilities (funded by the Jerome Foundation) awarded 138 grants totaling $172,100 to 107 individuals, including 27 repeat winners. This includes 107 from the 7-county Metro area and 31 from Greater Minnesota, living in 23 counties.

    1997-2007 – VSA Minnesota was the only VSA state affiliate organization within the network of 45 U.S. affiliates to host three major VSA events: the 1997 National Native American Very Special Arts Festival, the 2003 VSA National Affiliate Meeting & Leadership Institute and the 2007 Kennedy Center LEAD (Leadership Exchange in Arts & Disability) Conference (the latter with the State Arts Board and the Guthrie Theater).

    June, 1996 – VSAMN celebrates its 10th anniversary with the first presentation of the Jaehny Arts Access Awards at Pillsbury House Theatre, Minneapolis. For 14 years (1996-2011) 68 Arts Access Awards were presented – to 46 individuals (one twice), to 20 organizations, and to the Voters of Minnesota (for passing the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment).

    October, 1996 – VSAMN submits challenge to Minnesota State Arts Board to improve access for people with disabilities through its funded arts organizations. In October, 1998, the Minnesota State Arts Board adds language to its Operational Support application to address matters of access to people with disabilities.

    April, 1997 – Creation of first Directory of Minnesota Artists with a Disability, produced with funding from the Jerome Foundation; Access to Theatre Project begins with United Arts funding allowing theatre stipends to support the hiring of audio describers and ASL interpreters.

    May, 1997 – VSAMN hosts the 5th annual National Native American Very Special Arts Festival; 350 children from 13 states attend a 4-day festival in St. Paul and Minneapolis; co-sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Minneapolis office.

    May, 1998 – Spring Ahead, a performance showcasing Minnesota artists with disabilities held at the Fitzgerald Theatre as a culmination of a week-long series on disability by Minnesota Public Radio.

    August, 1998 – Excellence & Disability, an exhibit of 27 pieces by Minnesota artists with disabilities at the Minnesota State Fair, coordinated by Very Special Arts Minnesota.

    May, 1999 – 8 people from Minnesota attend the International VSA Festival in Los Angeles, CA; organization name officially changes to VSA arts of Minnesota. A T-shirt created for all Minnesota attendees states, “We’re Not Special Anymore!”

    October, 1999 – VSA publishes its first Accessible Arts Calendar, featuring arts events with accommodations for patrons with disabilities. This becomes a monthly resource available online, by email, in print and by voicemail with more accessible arts performances per month in Minnesota than anywhere in the world.

    July, 2000 – VSA helps the Minnesota Fringe Festival include and publicize performances with ASL interpreting, audio description and performers with disabilities. The annual 11-day event is now the most accessible Fringe in the world.

    2001 – VSA contracts with Vision Loss Resources to exhibit artwork by artists with disabilities in its lobby gallery. The exhibits continue at 1936 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis, and have included many other exhibits at the Waterfall Gallery, Carleton College, Homewood Studios, Trusight/MRA, Park State Bank, Owatonna Art Center, and Saint John’s University – where the Art of the Eye II exhibit included work by national blind artists including three Minnesotans: Scott Nelson (founder of Art of the Eye), Tara Innmon and Jon Leverentz.

    September, 2001 – VSA invites theatre, dance and music groups to celebrate accessibility of their arts at the Minnesota Arts Season Opener at the Playwrights’ Center. It turns into a nearly-annual fund-raiser, silent auction, performance opportunity for artists with disabilities.

    March, 2002 – VSA arts of Minnesota joins with the Minnesota State Arts Board to host The Art of Employment: Careers in the Arts for People with Disabilities at the Gateway Center on the University of Minnesota campus.

    March, 2002 – VSA hosts a meeting of artists with disabilities, which eventually turns into a monthly Artists With Disabilities Alliance (AWDA), now Open Flow, which has now met the first Thursday of each month for the past 16 years, offering artist support and sharing of art.

    June, 2003 – Minnesota hosts the VSA arts Annual Meeting & Leadership Institute in Brooklyn Center (Earle Brown complex) and St. Paul (Radisson Hotel on the river).

    June, 2004 – International VSA arts Festival in Washington, DC; Minnesota’s delegation consists of 8 artists, six PCAs, 2 VSA arts of MN staff, one board member and 3 staff from Interact Center for Visual & Performing Arts.

    December, 2004 – We present two performances at Red Eye in Minneapolis of Five Foot Feat, a production created at UC-Santa Barbara including a dancer with one leg.

    September, 2005 – In collaboration with Young Audiences of Minnesota, we present a concert by Tony DeBlois (from Massachusetts) and Lucy Sirianni (local) at Hopkins High School.

    August, 2007 – Co-hosts Kennedy Center’s Leadership Exchange in Arts & Disability Conference (LEAD) with Minnesota State Arts Board & Guthrie Theater.

    May 2, 2008 – Tokounou concert at Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center in Minnetonka featuring Sidiki Conde, recipient of one of the 2007 National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Awards.

    June 12-14, 2009 – VSA arts of Minnesota serves as fiscal agent and publicist for a statewide artists retreat, “Connecting through Creativity,” for the Artists With Disabilities Alliance (AWDA) at Macalester College, St. Paul.

    2010-2018 – In the first nine years of the ADA Access Improvement Grants for Metro Arts Organizations program, 140 grants have been awarded to 70 organizations, totaling $1,623,000.

    March 22, 2010 – VSA arts of Minnesota receives the Sally Award for Vision by the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.

    April 1, 2010 – Organization formally changes its name to VSA Minnesota with the new tagline, The State Organization on Arts and Disability.

    June, 2010 – Staff Craig Dunn, Jon Skaalen and Jenea Rewertz-Targui attend the International VSA Arts Festival in Washington, D.C. Aria Stiles (Apple Valley) performs at the Kennedy Center as part of the International Young Soloists Evening, work by visual artist Loretta Bebeau is included in the Revealing Culture exhibit at the Smithsonian, and 10 year-old Phoenix Krocak meets Very Special Arts founder Jean Kennedy Smith, who sees his artwork in the CVS exhibit at Union Station.

    October, 2013 – Minnesota Disability Mural featuring over 1,050 pieces of 1’ x 1’ artwork by people with and without disabilities is exhibited in St. Cloud and Minneapolis.

    November, 2014 – VSA collaborates with Patrick’s Cabaret to host the LoveAble Cabaret, which turns into annual CabarAble events in 2015-16-17, featuring performers with disabilities.

    September 24-25, 2015 – VSA Minnesota hosts the two-day Arts Access Chautauqua featuring presentations, panel discussions, an art exhibit and an evening performance at the Cowles Center for Dance and Performing Arts in Minneapolis.

    November-December, 2016 – VSA Minnesota convenes Community Gatherings on Arts & Disability at nine communities for artists, arts organizations and Regional Arts Councils.

    Ways to Stay in Touch with VSA Minnesota Happenings

    VSA Minnesota no longer prints an Arts Access newsletter, but we email a monthly Artists’ Pipeline and a monthly Accessible Arts Calendar. Many news items also appear on this website or on our Facebook pages:
    VSA Minnesota Facebook site
    Audio Description Across Minnesota
    ASL Interpreted and Captioned Performances Across Minnesota
    If you wish to receive the Pipeline or Calendar — as a regular email, Word or PDF attachment, text-only, or other formats — just let us know.
    PHONE: 612-332-3888 or 800-801-3883.
    EMAIL: access@vsamn.org or info@vsamn.org.
    MAIL OR IN PERSON: VSA Minnesota, 528 Hennepin Ave. #305, Minneapolis, MN 55403.