VSA Arts Celebrates JFK's Commitment to Social Justice (VIDEO)

02/03/2011 06:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Known for his debonair good looks, oratory skills and charismatic persona, one of the 20th century's most memorable presidents -- John F. Kennedy -- left a legacy that continues to enjoy the spotlight. To this day, Kennedy and his wife, "Jackie O", optimize for many the essence of power, beauty and sophistication.

As president during some of the most tumultuous years of the 1960's civil rights movement, led in large part by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., many admirers think of Kennedy in terms of his youthful vibrancy, his popularity amongst the people and his commitment to social justice, especially for African-Americans. Yet what some may not be fully aware of, was his deep commitment, as well, to providing equal rights for those with disabilities.

It was 1963 when President Kennedy signed the first major legislation that provided rights to persons with mental illness and intellectual disabilities, which recognized that disabled persons have the right to a dignified life; that the disabled are contributing members to society. And this year, VSA -- the international organization on arts and disability that's also an affiliate of the Kennedy Center -- honors Kennedy's enduring legacy and commitment to disability rights as part of The Presidency of John F. Kennedy: A 50th Anniversary Celebration.

"The civil rights legislation signed by President Kennedy set the stage for artists with disabilities to participate fully in today's art world," said Jennifer Wexler, VSA director of visual arts, in a recent statement. Wexler commented further saying that the celebration "is an exciting and inclusive event for anyone who cares deeply about the roles of the arts and artists in this nation."

VSA, which was founded by a relative of Kennedy's--Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith--has commissioned for the event three large-scale visual arts installations by art studios that include artists with mental illness and intellectual disabilities as part of the celebration. These works are described by VSA as:

• Art Enables' artists created Diverse Design, a larger-than-life installation that includes decorated benches, birdhouses, pottery, and paintings, as well as a backdrop by Charles Meissner that pays homage to the studio's home city of Washington, D.C.

• From New York City the Fountain Gallery brings a three-part sculptural installation, Finding the Way to Balance, which addresses the extremes of bipolar disorder, conceptualized by lead artist Bernie Stote.

• The Arts of Life of Chicago presents an installation featuring human-scale handmade puppets and a parade of ten-foot tall paintings, inspired by the artists' chosen theme, "Sticky Situations."

The Presidency of John F. Kennedy: A 50th Anniversary Celebration is a series of performances and events featuring music, theater, dance, exhibitions, and poetry, and runs January 12 through February 13, 2011, in the Kennedy Center Hall of States.

Visit vsarts.org or contact Laura Broom @ 202 628-2800 [ext. 3883] for more info.