Meet the ArtStart Board and Executive Director

Welcome to the ArtStart Board of Directors.
While our careers are diverse, we all share a common bond and that is a passion for the arts.
We joined the ArtStart board because we see evidence of that same passion in the staff and artists of ArtStart.

Anne Sawyer
Executive Director

Anne Sawyer

Anne Sawyer is a puppeteer, author, and arts educator who has worked extensively as a teaching artist with ArtStart for many years with a strong commitment and connection to ArtStart’s mission. With deep roots in the Twin Cities arts community, she has worked with organizations such as Heart of the Beast and the stilt group Hijinks Stilts (formerly Chicks on Sticks). Sawyer produces her own shows under the banner of Magic Lantern Puppet Theater, and while she identifies as a puppetry artist, she works in many mediums: felting and painting, embroidery and stilting, fiction and poetry. To date, she has created three picture books: Nalah and the Pink TigerNalah Goes to Mad Mouse City, and Mars on Life. She has created commissioned puppet works for the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Shadows of the Floating World), MacPhail Center for Music (Petrushka), and Gustavus Adolphus College (Measure for Measure). 

Sawyer’s work has received support from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, the Minnesota State Arts Board, Puppeteers of America, and the Jim Henson Award. Each year, she directs the Kalevala puppet pageant for the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center. Prior to the pandemic, she also found great fulfillment teaching visual art to adults with disabilities at Lifeworks Day Centers in Brooklyn Park and Eagan. More recently, she co-directed several puppet pageants in Bagley, Minnesota with Anishinaabe artist Julie Boada: Nanabozho and the Woodpecker and Lekamøya. One of her favorite projects in 2022 was building two Big Foot Puppets for Open Eye Theatre’s production of HAIRBALL at The Bakken Museum. In addition, she developed creative writing residencies based on the theme of mental health, thanks to an Arts Impact grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council. Most recently she served as the Production Coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.

Dr. Lois Eliason
Board member
Professor of Art History

Lois (Lola) M. Eliason is an art historian, entrepreneur, and artist. She has been leading undergraduate and graduate courses in art history for over 20 years and is currently interested in exploring how non-western arts and innovations shaped the Italian Renaissance. Lola is also the co-founder/owner of Jack & Lola ( Shop JL ), a collective that seeks to broaden its platform by inviting collaboration with other artists and designers, with particular attention to LGBTQ and POC communities. By making and selling one-of-a-kind and limited editions of jewelry using repurposed components, JL reduces its environmental footprint and upholds its foundational belief that beautiful things already exist. Recent collections of jewelry have been featured in Paper magazine and will appear in a new HBO series premiering in the Fall 2022. As an artist, Lola is currently exploring the medium of collage. She debuted three large collages in Resilience, group show in Spring 2022 and will be exhibiting 12 small scale collages in In Rotation, another group show coming in Spring 2023. She received a BA in English and Art History with a minor in Studio Art at University of California, Irvine, and a PhD in Art History (concentration on 15 th -century sculpture in Italy) at Rutgers University. Lola has recently discovered the joys and frustrations of gardening and won her first Macalester-Groveland alley garden award in 2022! 

Aside from my service as a board member, I have also been involved with the ArtStart organization as a parent, a teacher, and an artist. The tenets of its foundation that speak to arts and art education in terms of cultural exploration as well as environmental conservation are at the core of my personal values, and I am committed to ensuring the organization’s longevity during its transition in its executive leadership. I am also deeply committed to seeing the ongoing success of the ArtScraps storefront, which has been inspired and sparked the creative projects of many artists and makers in and around the Twin Cities. 

Judy Geck
Board Member
Retired Park Ranger and Bookseller

Time spent in nature is good for our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being and I also believe that art and nature are inseparable. Throughout my work life as a bookseller, Park Ranger, naturalist, and volunteer I have initiated and implemented collaborative opportunities for individuals and communities, many of them incorporating the arts.
Bringing people together to utilize their strengths and create something bigger is what I do best. Since 2016 I have had the privilege of working with ArtStart to host EcoArt Fest and teacher workshops at MN Valley National Wildlife Refuge. I joined the Board of Directors of ArtStart in 2018 and continue to provide support through teaching, volunteering, and enlightening others about ArtStart’s varied arts education opportunities. Much of my free time is spent paddling, biking, traveling in the far north, reading, gardening, and listening to music.
Throughout its 35 year life ArtStart has been led by Carol Sirrine, one of the most dedicated, creative and enthusiastic people I have known. These are big shoes to fill as she moves toward retirement but I believe our current Board Members are connected to individuals and communities that can bring forward our next Executive Director. This year we will need all of our strengths to locate, evaluate, and select our next leader. We have many strong supporters already who we should continue to bring in as consultants throughout this transition process. We should also review the many successes, changes, and evolution of this organization to draw inspiration and ideas for the future.

Dr. Thomas Lang
Board President
NeighborWorks Home Partners
Operations and Outreach Coordinator

I joined the board of ArtStart in 2020 as secretary, and in 2021 I was delighted to be elected president. I have over 15 years experience working in the non-profit sector in education and healthcare. My current employment at NeighborWorks Home Partners involves creating and supporting homeowners in the Twin Cities, and I also work for the City of Minneapolis as an election judge. I also volunteer my time fundraising for Open Eye Theatre and My Very Own Bed. My formal training is in music with a Bachelor of Science in music education from Winona State University and a Doctor of Musical Arts in music composition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In my free time, I enjoy baking, motorcycling, traveling, composing and playing music, and sharing great times with family and friends.

Under the leadership of Executive Director Carol Sirrine, ArtStart has thrived for nearly 35 years as an incredible organization that provides quality arts education experiences for kids and adults, and I am so thankful for her tireless work and enduring vision. This next fiscal year is going to be pivotal in planning for ArtStart’s longevity and success into the future as Carol begins to step down. In order to ensure a successful transition, I see these next twelve months involving not only continued and successful fundraising campaigns in the fall and spring, but also the creation of a transition committee that will plan, oversee, and implement a robust search for Carol’s successor. I feel optimistic that with so much diverse talent on our board that we will be successful in this important endeavor.

Michelle Presley
Board Vice-President
Missions Inc. Hart House
Program Manager

My work experience is primarily working with woman who are in recovery with substance use disorder and mental health disorders. I began my career in MN State Corrections working with women and juveniles.  After ten years of working in corrections and feeling the fatigue of  punitive justice I transitioned into human services where I can
see the benefits of helping others improve their lives. For the past twenty years I have worked in the capacity of a manager/director of programs working with women experiencing homelessness, Child Protection, legal issues and trauma and abuse, tailored to their individual needs.
I am a new member and excited to serve on the board of ArtStart. Art therapy is fundamental to the clients I serve, addressing trauma. Art therapy relieves stress and serves as an intervention for those with depression and anxiety. Through the partnership my current organization has with ArtStart I can see the rewards of self-expression and creativity. Watching a boost in their confidence, interactions with others, a smile and pride in the projects has been invaluable. Although not an artist, I do have creative strengths and I understand and appreciate how important the arts is in our community,  a community full of art is a community full of culture.

Martha Swendsen,
Board Member
Clinican, Researcher and Educator
Weisman Art Museum, Department of Education

My work experience includes over 20 years as a physical therapist in a variety of roles: clinician, researcher, educator, and middle management. My core work included specialties in neuro pediatrics and orthopedic-both adult and pediatric. As a researcher, I collaborated with a medical team primarily in computer-assisted gait analysis. In management, I oversaw a staff of 40 with responsibilities including budget, strategic planning, staffing, and regulatory compliance.
My current role is working with the Education Dept of the Weisman Art Museum. I assist with the U of MN Medical school 3 rd and 4 th year students and several residency programs. I also volunteer as a WAM guide for the U of MN and their public/outreach programs. I have volunteered for several nonprofits including the Science Museum,
Neighborhood House, Wild River Conservancy and Art Adventure in the schools. My formal training is in physical therapy from Marquette University with a smattering of business classes. In my free time, I enjoy dog walks with Gigi (our 16 year old rescue) riding horses, biking, reading and traveling with my husband, Michael.

ArtStart has been a vibrant part of our community for decades. As the Executive Director position transitions this year, maintaining the invaluable relationships and programming that have been cultivated by Carol Sirrine would be paramount. This includes Ecofest in partnership with the MN Valley National Wildlife Refuge and possibly
exploring an expansion of this program with the Wild River Conservancy. Personally, I look forward to better understanding the organization, working with and getting to know the Board and assisting wherever my skills can best be utilized.

Sara Dovre Wudali
Board Member
Poet, Essayist
President and CEO of Buuji, Inc.

Sara Dovre Wudali is an emerging poet and lyric essayist attuned to social equity, racial justice, and beautiful ordinary human gestures. Her poetry and essays have appeared in literary journals such as Brushfire, Hairstreak Butterfly Review, HeartWood, New Mexican Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Sleet, Streetlight Magazine, and Tiny Seed Journal and in anthologies such as the Saint Paul Almanac. She co-edited the chapbook anthology, All You Need Is One Avocado, forthcoming in 2022. Brevity published her interview, “Crossing the Border between Memoir and Fiction” in 2021.
Two of her poems were exhibited in the public art project, Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. As co-chair of the Parent Advisory Council’s Equity and Inclusion Committee at Central High School, Dovre Wudali founded and curated the Central Reading Series, facilitating student/mentor conversations with stellar, local BIPOC authors. She currently serves on the board of ArtStart, an award-winning, non-profit arts organization dedicated to providing quality arts education for children and adults. Dovre Wudali has served Minnesota’s literary communities as a judge and panelist for the Midwest Independent Publishers Awards, the Minnesota Book Awards, and the Minnesota State Arts Board.
Her service in equity and arts has provided her education as a generative artist. She holds a BA in English, earned at Concordia College, Moorhead. Dovre Wudali is owner and director of Buuji, a small content production house in St. Paul. Her childhood on a farm in southwest Minnesota finds its way into all her poetry.
The next fiscal year for ArtStart will be a time of great transition as its founder and leader prepares to retire and the organization searches for a replacement who will lead with the dedication, enthusiasm, and skill of its current leader. As a board member, I see my role as a caretaker who will help ensure ArtStart undertakes the search for a new leader in a position of financial security and with a mind toward protecting the current leader’s artistic and educational legacy.

Carol Sirrine
ArtStart Founder and Former Executive Director
Retired K-12 Arts Administrator

Now in her 35th year serving as ArtStart’s Executive Director and Founder, Carol Sirrine is a passionate advocate for the arts and quality arts education for all. After graduating from Billings Senior High, Billings, Montana, Sirrine traveled to Saint Paul Minnesota to attend Macalester College on a scholarship where she majored in music and elementary education graduating with a  BA. After graduation in 1967 Sirrine signed on with the Hopkins School District where she taught for 36 years and served as the K-12 Fine Arts Curriculum Coordinator for 25 of those years. In her role as K-12 Fine Arts Coordinator, Sirrine provided leadership to a 50-member  K-12 visual arts and music staff in the Hopkins School District bringing in professional artists and arts organizations to supplement the solid arts education base led by an exemplary general educator and arts staff, as well as administration. Sirrine also served as a curriculum consultant to variety of arts organizations co-authoring the Walker Art Center’s Art on the Air, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s CONNECT curricula for grades K-7, Capital New Year Celebration articles appearing in the Pioneer Press, and Cool Crafts for Teens, 4 books on accessible reuse projects for youth. In addition to her BA from Macalester College, Sirrine has an MALS degree from Hamline University, working with Herb Kohl, prolific author on social justice issues and alternative education, and an Ed Specialist degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato.
She founded ArtStart in 1988 and helped to launch ArtStart’s ArtScraps in 1993.  She spent after school hours and weekends working at “Scraps” developing the retail and creative outreach component so that it fit under the umbrella of the non-profit, ArtStart. With one foot in the world of education and the other in non-profit leadership, she worked tirelessly developing programming, funding, and collaborations with other organizations, as well as hiring exceptional artists and staff to maintain the unique niche the organization was carving out for itself, i.e. linking the arts with environmental stewardship. In 2003 Sirrine retired from the Hopkins Public Schools and began to lead the organization  full-time which included developing new arts programming funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and local foundations. After nearly 70 years since her first piano lesson, Sirrine is very thankful for the support that the Twin Cities has given ArtStart as it grows and matures into a one-of-a kind, essential resource and contributor to the creative life of the  community.
Sirrine had the profound experience of studying at the Hubert Humphrey Institute for Leadership. Influenced by the work of Dr. Robert Terry and his paradigm for leadership, she gravitated to the concept that our lives are often lived out through metaphor, each metaphor carrying a special meaning and set of behaviors. She resonated to the
metaphor of “life as journey”  because her experience had been and continues to be just that. “When one thinks they have arrived, in reality a new journey begins and even more profound, when one arrives at a crossroads wondering which path to take, it is best to seek the knowledge, skills and wisdom of fellow travelers in making a decision.” Her vision for ArtStart is as an organization that continues to model quality arts programming. Utilizing the talents of exceptional teaching artists who have strong cultural roots and an intense love of reuse, nature and conservation, ArtStart nurtures artistic knowledge/skills and creative expression for ALL.

  • RSS
  • Add to favorites
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email
  • Digg

Your Cart