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About Us

Our Mission

The mission of ARTS for ALL Wisconsin is to expand the capabilities, confidence, and quality of life for children and adults with disabilities throughout Wisconsin by providing programs in the arts.

Our Story

ARTS for ALL Wisconsin began as a member of the Very Special Arts Affiliate Network, a program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, founded in 1974 by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith to create a society where people with disabilities learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts.

Our programs began with a one-day festival for school-aged children in 1977 and remained the only programming until 1985. After incorporation that year, our organization quickly moved to initiate ongoing programs leading into the festivals. Integration of people with disabilities into the mainstream was a priority. Statewide initiatives began to serve people of all ages, providing an outlet for creative expression and unlimited possibilities for personal, academic, and professional success.

Over three decades later, we continue to successfully conduct effective and well-loved arts programs for people with disabilities throughout the state. We are unique among all other arts organizations in providing statewide, in-depth, and comprehensive programming across the full spectrum of arts activities and disabilities.

A boy looks back at the camera, smiling, while hugging a woman wearing glasses

The Evolution of Our Name

Very Special Arts (VSA) was a stand-alone nonprofit organization, Founded by Jean Kennedy Smith in 1974 and based in Washington, D.C., and funded through a line item within the U.S. Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) entitled Arts in Education.

1977 - 1985 - The first Very Special Arts Festival in Wisconsin took place at the Milwaukee Art Center on June 11, 1977 under the leadership of co-chairs Kent Anderson and Ken Cottingham. The Milwaukee Very Special Arts Festival was one of only 27 pilot sites selected for festivals in 1977 by the National Committee, Arts for the Handicapped. (The National Committee, Arts for the Handicapped (NCAH) was incorporated in 1975 as a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C.). Following a national directive, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education assumed the responsibility for the development of VSA Festival's in Wisconsin in 1980. From 1974 to 1985, Between 1977 and 1984 Festivals were held in cities including Racine/Kenosha, Milwaukee, Wausau and Sheboygan.

1985 - Very Special Arts Wisconsin was accredited by the National Committee- Arts for the Handicapped, an affiliation of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The first state office was established in Madison, Wisconsin. Nancy Kane became Wisconsin's first Very Special Arts Festival State Coordinator on January 15, 1983.

1986 - Very Special Arts Wisconsin met the criteria established by the national office and established itself as a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization. Very Special Arts Wisconsin was the official Wisconsin affiliate of VSA, an international organization founded in 1974 by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, dedicated to providing arts and education opportunities for people with disabilities and increasing access to the arts for all. Kay Lindblade was hired by the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education in March of 1985 as the quarter time State Coordinator and later became the organization’s first Executive Director.

1999 - Very Special Arts Wisconsin formally changed its name to VSA arts of Wisconsin, as directed by the national VSA office.

2010 - VSA arts of Wisconsin formally changed its name to VSA Wisconsin as directed by the VSA national office.

2019 - VSA Wisconsin embarked on a rebranding initiative to better reflect our mission, vision, programs, and audience. On August 25, 2019 the name was changed to ARTS for ALL Wisconsin. While VSA at the Kennedy Center discontinued the affiliate program this year, we are members of the VSA International Network and continue to work with VSA on various contracts. Most importantly, we still share Jean Kennedy Smith’s original vision of providing arts opportunities for all.

Our Board of Directors
  • Jason Rasmusen, Board Chair
  • Sherrye Smith, Vice Chair & Secretary
  • Jim Riordan, Treasurer
  • Joe Arts
  • Brent Don
  • Myranda Gereau
  • Carol Ohm
  • Jay Makowski
  • Jamie Mulry
  • Prof. Michael Leckrone, Life Director

Our Board of Directors is comprised of leaders from the nonprofit and for-profit sector who are dedicated to the mission of AFA.

Our board members are active advocates and ambassadors for the organization and are fully engaged in identifying and securing the financial resources and partnerships necessary to advance our mission.

Individuals interested in supporting the mission of AFA are encouraged to email Christina Martin-Wright at or call 608-241-2131 to be considered for board membership.

Board recruitment activities take place throughout the year, and new board members are introduced annually.