VSA Arts (Gallatin, TN)

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Young woman on stage singing into a microphone

Laura Dodd, past winner of the VSA Arts National Young Soloists contest, sings at VSA Arts Tennessee’s Night at the Ryman, a gala concert that put a spotlight on disabled performers. Photo by Evan Dickert

For aspiring musicians growing up in Tennessee, there is no loftier dream than performing onstage at Ryman Auditorium, the original Grand Ole Opry.

In 2006, VSA Arts Tennessee gave disabled performers from across the state a chance to fulfill that dream. The organization received an NEA Challenge America grant of $10,000 to fund its first-ever Night at the Ryman gala. Lori Kissinger, founder and executive director of VSA Arts Tennessee, deemed the event "a huge success."

Kissinger founded VSA Arts Tennessee after moving to Nashville in 2001 and discovering that the national organization had no state chapter. She has since organized many events, including educational programs, a singer/songwriter cabaret, and several competitions -- but nothing as big and splashy as Night at the Ryman.

Country singers T.G. Shepherd and Kelly Lang served as emcees for the evening. Ginny Owens, a wellknown blind contemporary Christian artist, was the headline act. Other performers included local disabled artists and the four finalists in VSA Arts state Young Soloist competition. The audience must have included a few talent scouts, because two of those students, pianist Angela Mosley and gospel singer Daniel Janvrin, have since been offered additional performing gigs.

More than 1,000 people -- about half from the general public, half from the disabled community -- attended the evening performance at Nashville’s opulent and historic theater. During the day, 2,000 special education students from 25 schools came to the Ryman. Many of those schools have since become involved in VSA Arts.

(From the NEA 2006 Annual Report)