Celia M. Hughes, Executive Director
MPA, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas - Austin and proud graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA, NYC). I have been involved in the arts since I was a young child, with my earliest memory singing in the cherub choir at my hometown Methodist Church at Christmas. I have also worked with people with disabilities from a very early age. These two avocations merged in NYC when I taught television production to high school students with Dyslexia and hired them as crew for two weekly shows I directed for Manhattan Cable. What fun we had! And we all learned something too. Moving to Austin in 1985 was a huge culture shift, and I relied on my grounding in the arts to help me through the transition. My journey to here has given me many adventures and introduced me to incredible people, places and ideas. Many of these experiences forged the ground to build my creative house upon. And this rock-solid foundation has supported me throughout my years as the Executive Director of Art Spark Texas. For over 20 years, I have had the pleasure and freedom to bring together people from all walks of life to create the story of an inclusive world. It is a good story.
April Sullivan, Director of Programs
Before Art Spark Texas was a VSA affiliate, it was called Access Arts Austin. I was the first employee starting at just eight hours per week in 1997. I left in 1999, to continue my arts administration career at the Austin Museum of Art-Laguna Gloria. I returned to VSA Texas in 2002, and have been here ever since.
The philosophy of arts being accessible to all people is what drew me to this organization in the first place, what brought me back, and what keeps me going for all these years. Each day is a new adventure and it is a joy to be a part of people's lives as they discover their artistic talents. As a visual artist, I thrive by being surrounded by creative people. See my fiber art works at www.yarnpaintings.com.
Silva Laukkanen, Director of Integrated Dance
In 2009 I attended the first Body Shift intensive and fell in love with this community of dancers. My journey in the mixed ability dance world began while I was studying for my BFA and I had the opportunity to teach at a rehabilitation center in my native Finland. After that experience I decided to refocus my career in dance to work with people whose lives have taken different paths than mine, and whose bodies and minds live their everyday lives differently than I do. My deepest passion and dedication for the field is in high quality dance education that’s inclusive and which ignites a passion for a lifelong involvement in dance art.
Jerry Slayton, Director of Education
Life for me began in a small coal mining community outside of Birmingham, Alabama. My grandmother introduced me to art at an early age, and my parents’ refrigerator door was always filled with new drawings. In college I studied Fine Art and Design at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and after school, I felt compelled to give back through teaching. I began at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, then moved to Austin to seek out new endeavors. Inspired in part by my sister, who is living with Cerebral Palsy, I began teaching traditional and digital media arts in special education.
In 2018 I began teaching new media art programs at Art Spark Texas. These programs combine tech hardware and software with traditional art mediums such as drawing and painting. The goal in our curriculum is to provide a project-based experience for students in which their artistic creativity is channeled towards a group goal. Through group work students learn critical executive functioning skills as they are introduced to new methods for art expression. Students become designers, solving visual problems as they make.
I want to help students build confidence in their art-making ability. Help them establish a process for creating that they can apply long after class is over, and take that confidence into life.
MsBoye Nagle, Speaking Advocates Program Manager
MLA, Creativity and Spirituality, Naropa University: I am a poet, actor,playwright, producer, drummer, teacher, and an ordained Interfaith Minister, under the Sufi Movement of USA.
In 2018 I joined TILT Performance Group, a process that required me to acknowledge the impact of my own disabilities on my life and later introduced me to Art Spark Texas. It’s been a long and rugged forty-five-year journey from a volunteer swim coach for people with disabilities at age 16 to working at Art Spark Texas as a proud member of the disabled community.
I feel so blessed that at 60 years old, I have finally found my perfect job. I can be honest about who I am and how I am without the need for masking and passing as neurotypical. It is a gift to work with an organization that appreciates me as I am and allows me to focus on my skills and be honest about my limitations. An organization with ethics and philosophies that mirror mine, where I can grow, develop my strengths and own my deficits, while being of service to folks like me and others from other disabled tribes.
Eric Clow, Media and Communications Specialist
I first became involved with Art Spark Texas in 2012 as a volunteer for the New Media Arts program. Music, film, and theater have always been passions of mine, and making the arts accessible for people with disabilities is very important to me. As a musician and screenwriter living with Muscular Dystrophy, I understand the challenges of producing and sharing meaningful and engaging works of art, and I am excited to help other artists with disabilities succeed.