For decades, Carolyn Owen Anderson has been a champion for creating accessible artistic opportunities for all. In 1990, Carolyn took over the helm of the NE chapter of Very Special Arts, a national organization with the mission of bringing participatory arts experiences to people with disabilities. At the time, VSA focused on programming for youth, but Carolyn soon realized that there was a much greater need, so she created a new organization--WhyArts? Inc.--in order to provide programming to seniors, at-risk youth, adults with disabilities and people with medical issues, who were marginalized from the arts.
In building the organization and its programming, Carolyn was committed to creating respect for the abilities of the participants. She worked carefully in selecting and training professional artists to create the workshops and experiences to ensure that they focused on the needs and more importantly, abilities, of the participants. Whether it was bringing a professional musician to create a performance of music from the 1930’s and 40’s for seniors with dementia, or an exhibit of artwork created by and for people with vision impairments, the focus was on the experience of those involved. “We bring the arts TO them – where they are on every level” is a phrase she often uses.
Over the decades, thousands of people have participated in the arts, in ways that required imagination and determination to work through obstacles that others accepted. Carolyn believes that students with developmental disabilities can and should be able to write and perform their own work; that people with limited or no vision can and should create sculptures for exhibit and enjoyment by others; that children can tell stories that dream themselves far beyond their hospital bed; that an artist with a disability can and should be seen as an artist first and foremost. Carolyn’s imagination and determination made all of these moments and more to come true, transforming the lives of everyone involved.