Smart Inc., Board of Directors
Sara Balbin, Dragonfly Studio
See My Art, Inc. President
This January, 2020, I was honored by the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters as a Fellow, celebrating their 150th year Anniversary. The Academy was founded in 1870 to gather, share, and act upon knowledge for the betterment of Wisconsin. They recognized my accomplishments as an artist, art therapist, author and community activist. Their guiding values are: Curiosity, Critical thinking, Creativity and Civil discourse, values I also hold closely. To learn why seven of us were nominated for Fellows into the Academy please visit: https://www.wisconsinacademy.org/fellows
I was born in Havana, Cuba, and reared in Chicago, Illinois. I earned both a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Art Therapy from the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and am a registered art therapist with the State and National Credential Boards.
Since 1987 I have worked from my Dragonfly Studio/Gallery on Blue Moon Road in Drummond, Wisconsin. My commissions have come from museums, colleges, businesses, town governments, tribal entities, nonprofit organizations and private individuals. My work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Wisconsin Arts Board, Wisconsin Humanities Committee, EAA Aviation Museum, Chequamegon Bay Arts Council, as well as foundations, and patrons of the arts.
As an artist, it is my long friendship with the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) community that inspired what may be my most historical work. They are the local band of the Ojibwe, or Anishinaabe, recognized by the United States Government as the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
The LCO Tribal Government commissioned thirty-two tribal elder oil portraits. The collection of detailed cultural paintings represents the generational heritage of this unique community. With biographies and illuminating essays which I co-authored, my art was shared in the book Spirit of the Ojibwe; Images of Lac Courte Oreilles Elders, published in 2012.
I have served on the Board of Directors to the Cable-Namakagon Historical Museum, and as their Curator since it opened its doors in 2005. I am also active with Cable’s Connect Community organization to revitalize their downtown.
My activity as an artist across a large region has opened new opportunities for artists. As founder and first president of the Cable Hayward Area Regional Arts Council (CHARAC), I brought a focus for community arts activities to Ashland, Bayfield, Sawyer, and Washburn counties. In another initiative, I encouraged the conversion of Hayward’s closed Park Theatre into the Park Center, a performing arts venue that has hosted weekly events for more than a decade.
While working as a certified art therapist, I recognized the need for and benefit of meaningful creative work for individuals with disabilities. Collaborating with existing vocational and social service programs in Ashland and Hayward, I helped develop two nonprofit card businesses that integrated and supported the organization’s clientele.
Taking this focus a step further, in 2008 I co-founded See My Art, Inc. (SMART), and acquired a not-for-profit 501c3 corporation status in 2012. SMART’s mission is to “Unlocking Doors and Opening Minds through Art for Individuals with Disabilities”. Designed to integrate the artists and their works, the SMART website www.seemyart.us , social media, events, and public venues are all used to market their art and engage the artists with their communities. SMART helps end social isolation, encourages kind communication, integration, empowerment, fosters independence, and healing for the artists, their families, friends, and community. This is where understanding begins.
I received a Sara Marshal PEO grant in 2016 to publish “Color with Us” a first of three editions coloring book using original paintings by SMART artists.
In 2018, I organized a Wisconsin Public Television documentary with Producer Trevor Keller for “Wisconsin Life”. The documentary features SMART artist Giishik Klawiter and author Shannon Kocka. To view the documentary visit: https://www.wisconsinlife.org/story/artists-with-disabilities-thrive-with-help-from-northwoods-nonprofit/
Since 2018 I’ve authored a column for Forest & Lakes Magazine Monthly entitled “For the Love of Art ©”. The column advocates for artists of all abilities, and includes events, councils, and organizations with a focus on the health benefits of all the arts.
Northern Wisconsin is a region of scattered communities, separated by variable weather, long distances, limited resources, and sometimes tenuous connections to the greater world. I’m proud and honored to work with kind, compassionate Board Members, and volunteers that work around these obstacles, and remain dedicated to the mission:
“Unlocking Doors and Opening Minds through Art for Individuals with Disabilities.”
See My Art, Inc – Vice President
Christie Carlson relocated to the north woods of Wisconsin in 2006 with her husband, Leo, and daughter Emma (14), when Leo took a position with Norvado, then Chequamegon Communications. Since that time, Leo and Christie have added two boys, Isaac (7) and Noah (5), 3 dogs, and 2 cats to the family.
Over the past 11 years, Christie and her family have settled in and made the Cable/Drummond area their home, enjoying all of the beauty and tranquility that comes with living in the forest.
When she isn’t working alongside Leo to homeschool Emma, Isaac, and Noah, she is publishing the latest edition of Forest & Lakes, Monthly Magazine, Christie enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, quilting, and reading. Christie’s background and education are in web and graphic design, marketing, and brand development.
See My Art, Inc. Secretary
I’m honored and humbled to be the new secretary of the SMART Board of Directors. I welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with the SMART board to continue to empower and inspire people with disabilities through art.
I have spent my life working with students with disabilities. I retired four years ago working 36 years as a high school special education teacher and seven years as a Director of Special Education at the Mellen Public Schools. I, then, went back to work part time as Director of Special Education for two more years in the same district. I believe that the main question is “What is in the best interest if the child?” I am pleased to say that after all those years I keep in contact with many of my past students.
I live in Drummond, Wisconsin with my husband. We travel quite often with children and grandchildren living in lower Michigan, Washington, and Nevada. If one was to ask me my hobby – travel would be it! We belong to the Cable Lion and participate, regularly, in many local fundraisers for the community and local school district. I serve as a Director for the Cable Lions.
As an observer, I believe that See My Art, Inc. has validated the artistic talents of those with disabilities. I’ve purchased cards and looked at items made by the disabled at varies art venues. I’ve seen the pride the artists have in their work. This, indeed, opens doors for the community in so many ways – Keep SMART Strong indeed!
I am a transplant from Madison Wisconsin and have made my home in Northern Wisconsin for over 30 years. As a Family Economist my career encompassed roles with University of Wisconsin-Extension, Health and Human Services and Lutheran Social Services.
I believe that my gift is to see possibilities and use a strength based approach to support positive outcomes. My ethic is to, “Do what is needed to lift people…” through one-on-one and community relationships Professionally, since 2001, I served the greater Sawyer County area through UW-Extension and Sawyer County Health and Human Services. For nearly 20 years I provided education, resource & referral and community leadership with the aim to promote self-sufficiency and quality of life for marginal populations. More recently, I coordinated wrap around services for youth with severe emotional and behavioral challenges.
Personally, I seek to acknowledge the depth and breadth of people as in my own life that helped me mitigate childhood traumas and deepen my compassion to serve others. I have encountered challenges and barriers in meeting the needs of my now adult daughter, Taisia age 22, who spent her first year in a Russian orphanage and lives with conditions of Asperger’s, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and severe Reactive Attachment Disorder. I am proud to report that presently, Taisia serves in the U.S. Army and my 27 year old son, Ian works in the private sector, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
My professional skills and personal experiences drive my passion to serve on the SMART Board. I am committed to build bridges and expand connections between abled and disabled individuals as well as to use art to open minds and empower opportunities.
I am a Northwood’s enthusiast who identifies nature as her ‘Zen’ and Great Lake Superior as making my “Soul sing.” As an avid outdoors woman, I winter/summer camp, hike, bike, ski, kayak/canoe, etc. whether rain, snow or subzero weather. Snail mail letter writing, piano and reading are my other interests. Currently, I am in my 8th term as President of the Spooner Area Intermezzo Music Club; serve on the Sawyer County Habitat for Humanity Board as well as Northwest Regional Planning Commission Housing Board; and I am a 25 year member of Northwoods Outdoor Women.
See My Art, Inc. Treasurer
I’ve lived with my husband Vaughn, sons Cody and Kyle in the Chequamegon Bay area since 1990. Our youngest son Cody is in the autism spectrum and is a See My Art, Inc. artist. His natural gifts are drawing/paintings and making others smile through his art. Our oldest son Kyle graduated with a degree in speech and Language Pathology.
I worked for Bayfield County for over 22 years, first serving as Victim/Witness Coordinator and Legal Assistant to the District Attorney; and subsequently as the County’s first Criminal Justice Coordinator since 2005.
As Criminal Justice Coordinator, I developed and facilitated evidence-based programs designed to change the thinking and behavior of offenders to promote a successful re-entry into the community. I have served as the project director for Bayfield County’s Risk Reduction Treatment Court (RRTC) since its inception in 2011. Have written grants and implemented programs focused on effective treatment alternatives, cross-jurisdictional training, and funding for educational enhancement for offenders in the Bayfield and Ashland County area.
Presently, I am a Community Health Worker, I connect people to needed health care information and services. I provide ongoing education, resources, and support to empower patients and improve health outcomes for community members.
Autism is considered a disability, but Cody’s artistry is beautiful and proves otherwise. SMART helps his art move beyond societal norms through exhibits, events and website. As a Board Member, I’m delighted to assist with program development, participate in events, and marketing to promote the mission “Unlocking Doors and Minds through Art for Individuals with Disabilities.”
I love the north woods, the arts, and have a desire to help enrich the lives of folks with disabilities. My son Alex Mann is in the autism spectrum and works for the Senior Resource Center on a bus in Hayward assisting passengers. Alex also joins Sara Balbin on radio interviews, and has blossomed as a radio personality promoting SMART’s annual events and mission “Unlocking Doors and Opening Minds through Art for individuals with Disabilities”.
In particular, for SMART I’m honored to manage the sale and distribution of the artists original greeting cards. I look forward to continuing and developing this role through internet sales as it grows in our beautiful north wood’s communities, and world.
As you know, each holiday season I emerge from my everyday goings on to sell Giizhik’s Holiday Cards for Autism. Thus far, we have earned $25,00 to benefit autism research at the UW-Madison Waisman Center, and $1,150. for SMART scholarships. The scholarships benefit the graduating seniors that are majoring in art, early childhood, or Special education. It’s something I feel passionate about because as Giizhik navigates his educational path, without these services he and others like him would fall through the cracks.
Giizhik Klawiter – Artist
As you may also know, many autistic people prefer to remain “behind the scenes”. Giizhik is no exception. We are a mother and son team standing steadfast in our mission to raise awareness and support those who have yet to travel the sometimes daunting autism road. As Giizhik states, “I’m happy that my cards help people”. I must say, I am honored to have Giizhik on my team; he paints and I sell.
Although, I also sell our cards at other venues, See My Art, Inc. will always have a special significance in our journey. I was selling cards at LCO College during our second year (Giizhik was just eight years old) when Sara Balbin happened to walk by my display. She stopped, I gave her my shpeel, after studying Giizhik’s artwork and she said, “I would like to work with him.” Here we are – ten years later! My boy is shining!
Recently, at the Hayward Fall Festival venue, a woman approached me to let me know that what we were doing “was a life changer.” She pointed to several pieces of autism information on display and said, “We have this one, this one this one, and this one….my granddaughter was finally diagnosed at age nine!” Please understand that what you are doing has not gone unnoticed.
Now as a Board Member to See My Art, Inc. and having Giizhik I am privileged to use my talents to foster kindness and understanding, and to bridge the gap between our fast-moving society, and people with disabilities.
I constantly meet interesting people that broaden my life in many creative ways. Often, I find that we as individuals tend to network within our industry, our profession, even in our neighborhoods. Working with an art group opens one up to people who think differently and forces you to consider points of view that may not be part of your 8-to-5 job. That variety is inspiring and energizing.
I have had experience selling many items and services in my life both for nonprofit and for profit businesses and have learned to ask for money in innovative ways. Most people run the other way at the mention of the word “fundraising.” But board service for an arts organization helps you learn how to tell a story about the art form, the organization’s mission, and results of that mission. The arts change lives and being part of a group such as See My Art, Inc. “SMART” can tell a powerful story.
I believe that when engaged in a nonprofit organization your decision-making skills get a workout. Every single arts organization in our region balances artistic decisions with financial decisions. Keeping organizations true to their mission and keeping an eye on the bottom line at the same time means you need to do your homework, listen to your peers, and make decisions that preserve both artistic and financial integrity.
I know that SMART positively helps develop cultural assets in our community by integrating the artists through events, and providing venues for marketing their art. We are fortunate to live in a community that values the arts and has many avenues for residents to participate in the performing and visual arts. But none of this can be sustained without people who are willing to lend a hand to raise the money and keep our arts organizations sustainable. As a board member, I believe one should leave this legacy long after your service.
I believe I’m using my professional expertise to help move the needle. Every arts board needs someone with administrative experience to serve. I believe my past work experiences and my current day job, and knowledge helps me serve, and will be effective.
I also know I’m getting rich – and it will have nothing to do with money. But it will have everything to do with knowing that I’m part of a powerful change agent – the, arts.
Through the arts, we have the ability to connect with each other and understand humanity with our hearts when our minds fail-to connect.
I know that by my serving on the Board change is occurring, as I know I will get more than I will ever give.