VSA arts of Nevada was founded in 1986 to provide arts programming to all Nevadans, especially the 15 percent of the population with some kind of disability. The organization provides art classes and workshops for children and adults, produces festivals, places artists in classrooms and health care facilities, and conducts training workshops for teachers. They are a member of the international VSA arts organization, which is an affiliate of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. VSA arts was founded by Jean Kennedy Smith in 1974 "to create a society where all people with disabilities learn through, participate in and enjoy the arts." "VSA" stands for "Vision of an inclusive community, Strength through shared resources, and Artistic expression that unites us all."
VSA arts of Nevada provided over 3,000 art workshops in 2008 for people with all kinds of abilities. Classes are offered for children and adults at both the Lake Mansion in Reno and the Alf Sorensen Community Center in Sparks. Subjects include painting, drawing, pastels, ceramics, glass fusion, jewelry, theater, and creative movement. There are also summer art camps for kids as well as after-school programs at several local schools. VSA also takes artists into special education classrooms, senior residential facilities and nursing homes, pediatric hospital units, residential facilities for adults with disabilities, and behavioral health facilities. VSA exhibits visual art in their Lake Mansion facility as well, and provides a place for disabled artists to sell their work. They work with an extensive roster of teaching artists in the performing and visual arts.
Working statewide, VSA produces an annual children's art festival in Lovelock and assists with arts programs in other rural communities, provides teacher training workshops, and works with special education students in many communities. Clark County (Las Vegas) is the only school district in Nevada with arts specialists in elementary schools, so any school arts programming is very appreciated in the rest of the state. Lesson plans are also available on the organization's website. VSA serves people with disabilities, at-risk and underserved populations, and the general public. VSA arts of Nevada is also a resource for arts and cultural organizations regarding issues of disability awareness and accessibility, particularly renovation of historic structures to accommodate people of all abilities. Another service they provide is sign language interpreters for Reno cultural events.
VSA was first housed in the Sierra Arts Foundation offices, but in 1996 they needed more space. Bruce Goff, a great-great-grandson of Reno founder Myron Lake, and his wife, Jane, offered them the use of the historic Lake Mansion, which had been moved to the grounds of the Reno-Sparks Convention Center on South Virginia Street in 1971. When the convention center needed to expand in 2004, the search began for a new location to preserve the mansion and VSA's programs. With the help of the City of Reno Arts & Culture Commission, a city-owned parking lot at the corner of Court and Arlington Streets was offered as a site for the building. On July 11, 2004, the mansion was moved to the new location, and after basic renovations VSA was able to move in again in March of 2005.
VSA now owns the mansion, and renovations are nearly complete. The building, originally located near the Truckee River crossing at Virginia and California Streets, was built in 1877 by W. J. Marsh, and was sold to Myron Lake in 1879. Funding for the restoration came from the Nevada Commission for Cultural Affairs, local foundations, and in-kind donations from local businesses. Historic preservation is thus also a part of VSA's mission, and the rooms on the ground floor of the Italianate mansion are furnished in period style. Self-guided tours are available from 10:00–2:00 on weekdays. In 2007 a garden pavilion was built next to the mansion to accommodate additional classrooms. The building and garden pavilion are also available for rental for special events, parties, and receptions.
VSA arts of Nevada is comprised of a staff, a board of directors, and an advisory board made up of experts in the fields of education, law, graphic design, and historic preservation. Mary Ellen Horan, executive director, has been with the organization from its beginning, and received a Governor's Arts Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts in 2000. VSA receives funding from the national VSA arts organization, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Nevada Arts Council, the Reno Arts & Culture Commission, foundations, local utilities and financial institutions, schools, facility rental fees, and individual donors and volunteers.