April produces and co-hosts the show, along with Celia Hughes (seated), the Executive Director of Art Spark Texas. April and I spoke on February 23.
Michael A. Brown: Tell us about your history at KOOP and the evolution of The Art Spark Texas Radio Hour.
April Sullivan: I had lived in Austin for two years when KOOP came on the air in 1994. I started listening and loving every show. It’s such a great radio station! When I began working at Art Spark Texas, in the realm of arts and disabilities, I met Thor Armbruster, who hosted The Common Thread show. We were occasional guests on the show and Thor wanted me to become a KOOP volunteer. At the time, Art Spark was running summer camps and spring break camps for young adults with disabilities. One of the participants was an autistic man who was attending ACC in radio, TV, and film who wanted to do an internship at KOOP. I went with him to all the KOOP trainings. As a result, I was trained too! And when the opportunity arose, I followed through and joined the ROCO collective.
MAB: Talk about the role and the importance of visual and performing arts and other art forms to the disabled community.
AS: The arts provide excellent ways to engage and communicate for people who have a hard time expressing themselves verbally or in writing. The arts are especially important for young people with those challenges. Traditional education may not work for them but arts are always a great way to learn and participate. For example, on a recent show we hosted a student who had been struggling with math until his teacher helped him learn counting and arithmetic via the tactile activity of using pipe cleaners to create art. Any kind of art form … dance, music, writing,
visual arts, performance … all those are good ways to express ourselves and to connect with people.
MAB: What does the Art Spark Texas organization do?
AS: We work to make the arts accessible by collaborating with local theaters, museums, and other art venues. Together, we enable people who are blind, for example, to attend and enjoy a movie or a play with audio description. We also work with venues to assure wheelchair ramp access to the audience area and also, if the person wants to be an actor, access to the stage. We work with people with disabilities, veterans, and seniors in the arts through in-person and virtual community-based programs.
MAB: What provisions are there for access and comfort at KOOP for your show guests with physical limitations?
AS: Studio 1 is really large and there’s lots of space for wheelchairs. The microphones are on long, flexible booms so they can reach comfortably whether a guest is seated or standing. The station lobby is also free of obstacles.
MAB: How do guests with hearing or speech challenges participate on your show?
AS: We’ve not yet hosted a Deaf guest, but we’d certainly welcome one and provide a sign language interpreter to facilitate communication with that guest. We have had guests who use communication technology such as a speaking device. On a recent Art Spark show, a guest had pre-entered podcast content on a speech device that enabled her to participate on the air with us. And Brandon, who co-hosts the Off the Beatle Path show, also uses a speaking device.
MAB: Have there been shows and guests that were especially memorable?
AS: We recently hosted the Accessibility Operations Specialist for South By Southwest to tell about how the event will be accessible for people with disabilities. Art Spark will be attending South By and we’re lining up interviews for upcoming shows. We also will be airing an interview with a filmmaker whose recent project is about her own experiences as a disabled person.
MAB: Besides you and Celia Hughes, other members of Art Spark Texas sometimes co-host too. What special perspectives do they bring?
AS: We have artists with various disabilities and interests on our Art Spark staff, so they bring their individual experiences and stories to the show. For example, Eric is a birding expert. Ms Boyd pre-records interviews with disabled people who are learning to be advocates for others with disabilities as they write or speak about their lives.
MAB: What new art-related services and accommodations for the disability community are happening or pending in central Texas?
AS: A big thing nowadays is audio description, which means making the visual verbal for people who are blind or visually impaired. It happens by providing real-time narration of what the person would otherwise be seeing, which enables blind and visually impaired folks to access movies, plays, and video content such as web sites. Art Spark is doing lots of audio description.
MAB: How about a preview of upcoming art events that listeners likely would enjoy.
AS: On Saturday, March 25th, the on-line Writing Workshop for Veterans is happening. From April 10th thru 14th, we’re running an Audio Description for Dance Workshop, which is a challenging specialty, but you can learn how to do it. And on April 13th, Art in the Park for school children from AISD and other area districts will take place at Fiesta Gardens. There will be booths for the kids to do art, plus performances on the stage. More information about these events is available at www.artsparktx.org
You can hear the Art Spark Texas Radio hour with April Sullivan and her Art Spark colleagues every Monday at 2:30pm.
Interview by Michael A. Brown