Disabled students are being asked to help decorate the White House


WASHINGTON -- Very Special Arts, an arts organization dedicated to quality programs for disabled artists, is calling on students to help celebrate the 200th anniversary of the world's most famous residence with their own artwork.

"Life in the White House," their latest program, asks for disabled students to contribute artwork that reflects on life in the First Family's home during the past 200 years. The subject matter is limited only to one's imagination.

Fifty-six works, one from each state, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. territories will be selected by a national committee. They will go on display at the White House on Oct. 13, 1992.

Backed by a corps of professionals and volunteers, Very Special Arts has been a leading force in creating a greater public awareness of America's talented and creative disabled citizens for almost 20 years.

Founded in 1974, VSA has grown from a national to an international arts organization for the disabled. It provides educational materials and programs for disabled artists in each of the 50 states and coordinates similar programs in 55 foreign countries. More than 1 million people are actively involved with Very Special Arts programs across the United States.

In recent years the White House has hosted VSA's national and international arts festivals, while Congress has sponsored art exhibits and designated Very Special Arts as the nation's coordinating agency for arts programs for the disabled. The Washington diplomatic corps holds fund-raising events each year.

However, not unlike other educational programs today, VSA has had to endure its share of budget problems and shortfalls.

"The recession makes it tough for everyone," said Eugene Maillard, chief executive director of Very Special Arts. "As the schools get squeezed, the programs get squeezed and we have people wanting to get involved and really having a difficult time scraping by."

Despite these obstacles, VSA is pushing ahead with its latest national endeavor, working with the White House Historical Association.

The initial response to "Life in the White House" has been quite enthusiastic -- so much so that Maillard sees a similar program on the horizon, the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Capitol in 1993.

Maillard says students should not hesitate about entering "Life in the White House" or any other VSA program.

"Everyone has their own unique ability to create and to share that creative spirit with others," Maillard said. "VSA has pointedly tried not to have winners, but to be able to give everyone an opportunity. Participate, get involved, and feel a sense of accomplishment."

Students with disabilities from upper elementary, middle and junior high, special education and Very Special Arts programs are eligible.

Entry deadlines for "Life in the White House" varies from state to state. Students are encouraged to find out about their particular program as soon as possible.

Information is available from Very Special Arts state offices or the Very Special Arts head office at 1331 F St. NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004, or by calling (800) 933-8721 or (202) 628-2800.

State and local VSA organizations will judge the works in their home states, selecting the top four. A national panel will select the top works by March 15. The winning artists will be invited, along with a chaperone, to the exhibit's fall opening at the White House.

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