The VSA North Fourth Art Center

Established 1981 Albuquerque, New Mexico

The VSA North Fourth Art Center has quite a large day habilitation facility located on Fourth Street including traditional, structured visual art classes. Here artists are referred to as Apprentice Artists and staff members as Teachers, with the artists having direct input about the classes offered. Guided instruction is provided for 16 week trimesters in a wide range of media - painting, printmaking, ceramics, filmmaking, dance, theater, and literary arts. New Mexico requires a 1:5 ratio and outings 50% of the time. The outing requirement can be a hardship and distracting, but otherwise this program doesn’t yet feel pressure to restructure due to Employment First.

  Curious, beautiful New Mexico

Curious, beautiful New Mexico

The Kennedy Center’s VSA program was once an ambitious organization founded by Jean Kennedy Smith and is still fairly far-reaching. VSA’s presence in North Fourth’s official name is actually the only connection that remains to the organization. The VSA claims to have affiliates across this country and 50 others, but the scope of services they provide is really quite minimal. Many of these affiliates provide accessibility consultations to art museums and programs for only children with disabilities.

The Kennedys’ relationship to this population is a fairly well known, sad history that resulted in a series of programs. Unfortunately, many of these and affiliated non-profit organizations still shed a patronizing light on  the individuals in attendance. Although their work has been beneficial in raising awareness about general needs of this population since the 70’s, the current, diminished role of the VSA should be understood as progress.

  A North Fourth class in session

A North Fourth class in session

As we discussed the concept of art careers with Head Teacher Sherilyn, she related that some of the artists have asked when they’ll advance beyond the apprentice stage.  This presents an important insight.  North Fourth is operated primarily by teachers with Art Education and Art Therapy backgrounds; consequently, the model they’ve developed for the program consists primarily of classes taught in a traditional sense and is too didactic to be categorized as a Progressive Art Studio. That a student may be independently compelled to ask about advancing beyond the apprentice stage is indicative of the fundamental value and importance of having career options available as an artist. Sherilyn expressed that North Fourth is interested in responding to this inquiry by allowing program growth and eventually offering art not only as education or recreation; this could include something akin to a Progressive Art Studio. The program already exhibits the potential for this in a smaller, adjacent studio developed recently after a teacher’s visit to Creative Growth - we look forward to seeing how this progresses in the future.