Smart Inc., Board of Directors

Sara Balbin, Dragonfly Studio

Accomplished artist, art therapist, author, and community activist, Sara Balbin is a powerhouse of talent and energy. Her sculptures, made of natural elements such as steel and boulders, often convey a sense of grounded inspiration, reflecting the diversity of humanity in concert with the natural environment. Since 1987 she has worked out of her Dragonfly Studio on Blue Moon Rd. Drummond, Wisconsin.

Sara’s sculptures can be viewed nationally at many locations including the College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, Minnesota, Northland College, Ashland, WI, Marshfield Clinic, Oncology Healing Garden, Rice Lake, and twenty-four other locations around Cable, Namakagon, and Hayward, WI. In addition, 32 of her oil portraits were published in “Spirit of the Ojibwe: Images of Lac Courte Oreilles Elders” which she co-authored in 2012.

Sara was born in Havana, Cuba, and reared in Chicago, Illinois. She earned both a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Art Therapy from the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and is a registered art therapist with the State and National Credential Board. Since 1989, she has provided art therapy to children, adolescents, adults, and geriatric clients in Northern Wisconsin with varying illnesses, disorders and disabilities, including anger management and grief.

Over the years, Sara has co-founded several not for profit corporations, serving as President of the Chequamegon Fine Arts Festivals, the Cable-Hayward Area Arts Council (CHARAC), and See My Art Inc. (SMART), a corporation serving individuals with disabilities through the arts. She received a grant from the Sarah Marshall Grant, P.E.O. Chapter D.M., Hayward, WI. for SMART to publish a coloring book with original designs by artists with disabilities.

Sara envisions a free online community where SMART artists can showcase their art, communicate with one another for socialization, integration, empowerment, independence, and healing. Ending the isolation they often live with, and seeing new opportunities through the SMART website, and Facebook are key goals for SMART. These social connections offer new insights and provide for self-esteem bolstering input from friends, family and community.

SMART mentors artists at events and showcases their work at galleries to achieve their mission and vision. This is where communication begins.

Mission: Using Art to Empower and Inspire.
Vision: Unlocking Doors and Opening Minds through Art.

Christie Carlson

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.

Shelly Wilson

Shelly Wilson and her husband Mike have been coming up to the Cable area for 20 years to vacation and take part in events. They both fell in love with the area and its people. Just recently both retired and they decided to make Cable their full time home. Shelly retired from 25 years of teaching high school science. She now keeps busy hiking, biking, volunteering and reading. Shelly looks forward to being on the SMART board to help support individuals with disabilities.

Trinke Alexander

Thank you for the recent opportunity to have worked with you on behalf of See My Art, Inc. “SMART” strategic planning and now I’m proud to join the SMART board.  I am impressed and humbled by the talent, passion and qualifications of SMART board members.  I welcome the opportunity to do my part to contribute to your present and future goals all focused to provide and expand creative potential and opportunities of people with ‘unique potentials’ that all too often are neither cultivated or recognized.

Professionally, since 2001, I have served the greater Sawyer County area in roles with UW-Extension and Sawyer County Health and Human Services.  I have provided education, resource & referral and community leadership with the aim to promote self-sufficiency and quality of life for marginal populations.  For nearly 20 years I have spearheaded community collaborations and partnerships toward this aim as well as worked one on one with individuals.  More recently, I have engaged wrap around services for youth with severe emotional and behavioral challenges.  As SMART board members will know already, often these youth have tremendous artistic capacity that is neither acknowledged or used to support their overall development and self-esteem.

Personally, I have encountered deep challenges in meeting the needs of my Russian adopted daughter, Taisia (now age 22) who has unique strengths as a result of Asperger’s, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and severe Reactive Attachment Disorder.   Several years ago, gratefully, through clients, friends and other connections I became aware of art therapy and was able to enlist Sara Balbin to provide a creative connection for Taisia and non-judgmental support for me.  Of course, corresponding to this time I began to notice the fabulous printed greeting cards created by what is now SMART artists.

I believe I share the SMART Board’s passion and commitment on behalf of the SMART strategic plan to continue and also expand SMART creative options with the aim to lift artists with unique potential as well as enhance community outreach and support.

Brenda Spurlock

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.”

Anita Warren      

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 “Opening Doors and 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 woods communities, and world.

Vallie M. Szymanski

Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness – “OCSA”

Executive Vice President & Co-Founder

“You Take Care of your Pet, Your Pet Takes Care of You, You Need to Take Care of Yourself”

I lived in St. Charles, IL and worked for many years in the International Sales and Marketing Division of United Airlines.  After retiring from United, I was the Executive Director of Chicago Sister Cities for several years when I co-founded OCSA with Susan and Rick Roman, owner/operators of The Signature Room at the 95th on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. We were determined that our outreach would include an emphasis on the human animal bond. After my husband died in 2016, I visited and fell in love with the Hayward area then moved here in October of 2018. Hayward and its surrounding area have been most welcoming and we have participated in several Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce activities.  We were a “Friends of the Musky Festival Sponsor” in June 2019 and will be a “Silver Sponsor” at the Fall Festival in September 2020.  It has given us an opportunity to meet members of the community and talk about our “One Health” Message. And we also had the wonderful opportunity to participate in the American Birkebeiner “Birkie” Expo in February 2019 & 2020 and the 2019 Birkie Trail Run.  At the 2020 “Birkie” OCSA sponsored 5 Skiers where we raised $4K to support the OCSA Veterinary Student Internship at Penn Vet Working Dog Center and its ovarian cancer dog sniffing team under the leadership of Dr Cindy Otto.

For me, joining the SMART Board is an opportunity to open new doors to enhance and share OCSA’s message to an entirely new audience, especially as it relates to our emphasis on the human animal bond. This year OCSA is also a Gold Sponsor at the Musky Festival, Hayward, Wisconsin. Working jointly with SMART we now share the One Health Awareness Message to highlight the artistic talents of SMART artists like Giizhik Klawiter. Under tutelage from Sara Balbin he is painting a picture of my two Afghan hounds “Ahkie & Kristah”. Pam Miller, his mother, is a huge advocate for the healing power of animals especially when dealing with individuals on the autism spectrum like her son. Giizhik’s painting will become a symbol of our joint efforts emphasizing the power of animals and art. Collectively we will accomplish this mission and send a message that captures the Positive Spirit of Inclusion and the Healing Power of Pets and we might just save a life or two along the way.

Hayward and Cable are vibrant communities in the beautiful Northwoods of Wisconsin.  There are many opportunities to support the mission of SMART by “Using Art to Empower and Inspire” and showcase the “One Health Conversation”

Pam Miller

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.

Diane McNamer

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.