When Brian Lehman, Malcolm’s AP Art teacher, suggested that I submit my son’s work for a contest, I was hopeful. Malcolm had already been published in four online journals by May of 2019, and two of his paintings had been accepted by the 24th annual Art Ability Exhibition and Sale, an international event held at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital. Nevertheless, I was floored to get the email saying that Malcolm had been chosen by the Kennedy Center to receive an award of excellence in the VSA Emerging Young Artists (19-24 years old) program. There were fifteen winners from all over the country, but Malcolm was the youngest, and the only one with no post-secondary training.

Along with visual artists, the Kennedy Center offers awards to talented young musicians and playwrights with disabilities. Due to the generosity of the Volkswagen corporation, Malcolm’s group received travel to Washington D.C., accommodations, a welcome dinner, two and a half days of professional development workshops, a certificate, a financial award, a new head shot. In addition, he artists, their guests, associates of the Kennedy Center, employees of Volkswagen and members of Congress attended two receptions for the artists and their work. After two weeks in Volkswagen’s Virginia headquarters, all of the art chosen for the exhibit will tour the country for approximately a year. 

At first, Malcolm was mainly excited about staying in a hotel, however, by the end of the trip, he seemed to feel further validated as an artist. Success in the arts requires more than talent; key elements include financial resources, hard work and a measure of luck. Still, as more and more experts show appreciation for his work, Malcolm’s belief in himself continues to grow. Perhaps the greatest benefit he’s gained, however, is being connected with a supportive community, some of whom face similar struggles. I can’t wait to see where the road leads Malcolm—and his colleagues—next.




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