Sparking the Creative in Everyone

Authors: April Sullivan, Artworks Director, Art Spark Texas

Keywords: art, AD, audio description, access, inclusion, artists

Abstract: April Sullivan, Director of Art Spark Texas, describes how the organization evolved through the years since it first offered audio description (AD) of events to people in the community who were blind and visually impaired. It continues to provide audio description and also provides access to a variety of creative events for people with disabilities.

Who is Art Spark Texas? We have been in Austin since 1996, but you may not know us. Let me take you on a journey of our history. We started as Access Arts Austin, a small volunteer organization that provided live audio description (AD) services to the Austin blind and visually impaired community. This included plays at the Paramount Theater, musicals and operas at the Bass Concert Hall, ballets, and other live performances upon request. One time we even described a horse whisperer demonstration! Started by a core group of blind individuals, all of our audio described events were by request of the community, so we spent much of our time educating the Austin arts organizations about accessible venues and programs. I remember one time standing outside the gates of the Cirque du Soleil tent in the Highland Mall parking lot, refusing to leave until someone talked to me about accessibility. We got through to them and were able to provide audio descriptions for the colorful acrobatic event for several people that year.

In 2001, we expanded and became the state affiliate for Very Special Arts, an international organization started in the 70s by the Kennedy family. You have most likely heard of Special Olympics. We were like that, but for arts, not sports. With this new affiliation we were able to expand our services to include all disabilities and all art forms. We began hosting events such as our annual Art in the Park festival for school children with disabilities. This annual festival is a field trip day for students from the Austin area and beyond. They make art and enjoy performances in a local Austin outdoor space. This year the event is Thursday, April 13, 2023 at Fiesta Gardens. We added a dance program, services for military veterans, opportunities for visual artists to show and sell their artwork, a speaker training program, spring break and summer camps for transition age youth, and much more.

Dozens of people of all ages explore the items displayed on tables around the park.

Students at the Annual Art in the Park festival at the Mexican American Cultural Center in 2011

A student tactually explores a container of rose petals.

Students creating nature bracelets at the Art in the Park festival

In 2017, we changed our name to Art Spark Texas. This new name does not mean we changed our services; it just reflects a moving away from the affiliate network and doing our own thing. We are still serving creative Texans with disabilities. There is lots of information on our website, about our classes, dance programs, mobile art, visual arts, photography, video, animations, music program, blogs, artist awards, podcasts, ATXgo, and so many other opportunities that support artistic activities for people of all ages and abilities. ATXgo, for example, has an ADA Toolkit with resources for making venues inclusive and accessible for everyone.

A house decorated with Christmas lights and a sign identifying it as Art Spark Texas

The Art Spark Texas office at 1152 San Bernard Street, Austin, TX.

During the pandemic, Art Spark Texas moved everything to a virtual format and are just now returning to some in-person events. So, no matter where you are in Texas (or beyond), you can participate in events such as our monthly Open Mic for musicians and writers. For those in Austin, we invite you to our monthly Drum Circle, our monthly Makers’ Meet-ups, and other special events in East Austin at our location at 1152 San Bernard Street.

Throughout the years of change and growth, our audio description program has not been forgotten. It has expanded too! We still do live description in Austin. We also do some events in San Antonio. Wherever you are in Texas, if you want to attend a live theater event, you should not be shy about calling up the box office and asking which performance will be audio described. If they don’t know what you are talking about, refer them to Art Spark Texas. We are happy to educate them on the service and the benefits it brings to them by expanding their audience to be more inclusive.

Large capital letters A and D, followed by three signs for closing parentheses

The universal symbol for Audio Description

With the move to more digital and online content worldwide since we began in 1996, we also have lots of clients for video work. We provide AD scripts and audio tracks for educational videos, short films, commercials, website videos, and so much more. For more information on our AD services overall, check out the page on audio description on our website. We also offer training in audio description for anyone interested in being involved in providing this much needed service. 

So, how do you get involved in Art Spark Texas? At our website you can sign up for one of our many e-newsletters to stay informed about all the different programs. Or, contact us at 512-454-9912 or [email protected] with specific questions. We are also on social media at @ArtSparkTX. We always enjoy meeting new creative Texans, so if you write, dance, sing, paint or act, we have opportunities for you and can’t wait to tell you about them.

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