by Silva Laukkanen.
The December Artist of the Month is Amy Litzinger. I was able to take some time and meet with Amy to chat about her past and how she became involved with Art Spark Texas, and I’m so glad I had that time with Amy.
In our interview, I learned about Amy’s work in the disability advocacy world, her favorite experiences with Art Spark and the influence that her family has had on her artistic life, and how that creative thinking has so often provided solutions and access for her everyday life.
Amy originally became involved with Art Spark Texas (back then VSA Texas) right after high school, which was when we were doing Actual Lives. Actual Lives was a theatre program that created opportunities to tell engaging and informative stories about disability, and Amy participated in our summer program for teens. But that was just the beginning.
The endeavor that really brought her solidly into our community was Art Spark’s dance program. Amy performed in a powerful protest piece called “Change” choreographed by Tanya Winters. Calling out the fact that the Texas governor was attempting to cut the Health and Human Services budget for personal attendants, the performers wore green costumes to represent money. Weaving in a narrative of how attendants enable the critical activity of the daily lives of those with disabilities, the piece highlighted the impact a funding cut can have on even the most basic elements of living for those with disabilities. The piece finished in utter silence, because without money, their lives cannot exist. As Amy said after this experience, “The rest is history.”
Amy recalls another highlight which was a dance piece called “Just Psoas You Know”, choreographed by Julie Nathanielsz and performed at the atrium of City Hall. Amy particularly remembers a section from the dance in which they had intense eye contact duets. This felt important to Amy because often people with cerebral palsy are encouraged to try to use eye contact correctly and fail because it is so inconsistent and that, this time, there were no social norms that it had to work in a certain way. This eye dance was very expressive and created an even play field.
You can also find Amy participating in Art Spark Texas The Lion and Pirate Open Mic where she has been sharing poetry entitled “Dear Ableism.”
Advocacy work is very important to Amy and her family. She has been involved in disability policy making at the state and federal level as well as teaching legislative advocacy at the Partners in Policymaking course organized by the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities first with her mother and then later by herself.
Amy’s family has always been full of artists. When Amy’s mom was given Amy’s diagnosis at age two, her mother’s biggest worry was how to involve her in the family art making. With a little bit of creativity, the Litzingers found a path to incorporate art into their family life quickly from the time that Amy was a child. One of the ways that they incorporated Amy was through her occupational therapy. They would take what she was learning there and translate it into art. When Amy was having challenges holding a pencil, they thought that what if she would hold a larger brush or when doing spelling, they would dip chalk in water and write it out in big letters. Amy feels that being creative and doing art is something that she has always done along the way throughout her whole life.
Amy also felt the influence of art through her grandmother, who majored in art while in college and was an art museum docent. As she neared the end of her life and suffered from many neurological issues, including memory loss, one thing that Amy’s mom, being the awesome person that she is, suggested to the grandmother’s attendants, was for them to have a set of art supplies to do art with her. As soon as they would set Amy’s grandmother up to create some art, her body and her brain would recall the memory of how to make art, even though she couldn’t talk through what she was doing. Some of Amy’s art resembled so much of her grandmother’s that people were not able to recognize which piece was made by whom.
Amy said, “I’ve been involved with Art Spark in some form, or fashion for over half my life. So, there’s been a lot of artistic and personal growth that’s happened just naturally. So, I think Celia, and the whole community deserve some credit for that.” She includes our collaboration with Southwestern’s Theatre for Social Justice performance collective’s “A Mystical Quest to Slay Normalcy”
But Amy herself has played a critical role in creating our community and the development of its members. I remember years ago when Amy and I were talking after our class and I was disclaiming that I wasn’t an advocate, rather; I was just a dance educator that believes the art of dance and movement belongs to everyone. Amy started laughing and said “Silva, you are an advocate and I’m going to help you see it.” I’m so grateful to her for that conversation that gave me permission to be proud of myself as an advocate, and I know that everyone else at Art Spark is grateful for the X, Y, and Z that Amy has brought with her over the years.
In addition to Amy’s artistic life, she also holds a BA in comparative religions, political science and English from Southwestern University, and a MA in Theological studies from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.