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, showcasing her 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). To date, she has created three picture books: Nalah and the Pink Tiger, Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City, and Mars on Life. She works in many mediums: felting and painting, embroidery and stilting, fiction and poetry, and has created commissioned puppet works for the Minneapolis Institute of Art, MacPhail Center for Music, and Gustavus Adolphus College. 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.

Dr. Lois Eliason
Board member

Lois (Lola) M. Eliason is an art historian, entrepreneur, and artist who has been leading undergraduate and graduate courses in art history for over 20 years. Lola is also the co-founder/owner of Jack & Lola (Shop JL) which specializes in one-of-a-kind and limited editions of jewelry using repurposed components. As an artist, Lola is currently exploring the medium of collage, and currently has 12 small scale collages on exhibit in the group show titled In Rotation. She received BAs in English and Art History with a minor in Studio Art at University of California, Irvine, and a PhD in Art History (concentration on 15th-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!

Sara Dovre Wudali

Sara Dovre Wudali’s poems and essays have appeared in literary journals and anthologies such as Barrelhouse Review, under the gum tree, Hairstreak Butterfly Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Sleet, and Saint Paul Almanac. She co-edited the chapbook anthology, All You Need Is One Avocado, forthcoming in 2022. Her poems have been exhibited in public art projects in Mankato, Red Wing, and Minneapolis. Dovre Wudali is a 2023–2024 Loft Mentor Series Poetry Fellow. She is owner and director of Buuji, a small content production house in St. Paul.

Carol Sirrine
Founder, Former Executive Director

Carol Sirrine is a versatile educator, accomplished musician, and dedicated arts advocate with a journey spanning over six decades. Graduating with a BA in music performance and education in 1967, she embarked on a teaching career while also contributing her musical talents to the Saint Paul Civic Symphony for an impressive 52 seasons. In 1976, she received a Fulbright Scholarship to teach in England, composing a musical in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee. Serving as the first K-12 Fine Arts Curriculum Coordinator in Hopkins until her 2003 retirement, Carol also founded the nonprofit ArtStart in 1988, promoting interdisciplinary arts and environmental stewardship. After retiring from ArtStart in June 2023, she is pursuing her love of writing through online creative writing classes at Cleveland Lit, aspiring to become a published author.

Judy Geck

Throughout my work life as a bookseller, Park Ranger, naturalist, and volunteer I have initiated collaborative opportunities for individuals and communities that combine nature and the arts. Bringing people together to utilize their strengths and create something bigger is what I enjoy most. I serve on the ArtStart Board of Directors and have worked in partnership with ArtStart to host EcoArt Fest, teach Art and Nature classes, and support the ArtScraps Reuse Center.

Martha Swendsen,
Vice President

With my formal background in the sciences and my love of art, the mission of ArtStart combines so many facets of my passions…be it art camp, Ecofest or sustainability through the reuse of items with ArtScraps. I am honored and thrilled to be part of such a vibrant and iconic organization. I look forward to the future and the many new possibilities for ArtStart.

Michelle Presley
Board Member

Michelle centers her work around women in recovery from substance use and mental health disorders. Although her career began in MN State Corrections, the fatigue of punitive justice influenced her transition to human services, where she can more easily see the benefits of helping others improve their lives. Most recently, she has stepped into a new role as the Director of Programs at Missions Inc. For Michelle, art therapy is fundamental to addressing her clients’ trauma; it relieves stress and serves as an intervention for those with depression and anxiety. Through her organization’s partnership with ArtStart, Michelle can see the rewards of self-expression and creativity for her clients, as well as a boost in their confidence, interactions with others, smiles, and pride in their creations. Though not an artist, Michelle has creative strengths and appreciates how important the arts are to her local community – a community full of art is a community full of culture.

Magda Ronningen
ArtStart Board Member

I am a creative thinker powered by an art education that has led to collaborations with over forty industries. My art degree taught me how to think critically, to observe, to compare, to problem solve and to succeed. From running divisions and directing national programs to creating education that informs growing minds or builds the performance of global corporations, my art education has served me well. Please donate to ArtStart! Let’s provide the opportunity of art and hope to the next generation!

Tom Lang
Board Chair Emeritus

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I served on the ArtStart board from 2020 until 2023, first as board secretary and then as board chair, overseeing the organization’s recent leadership transition. I have nearly 20 years’ experience volunteering and working for mission-based, non-profit organizations, including NeighborWorks Home Partners, Park Nicollet, Mills Music Library, My Very Own Bed, Open Eye Theatre, and Hennepin County Library. My current work is in hospital relations at LifeSource in Minneapolis. My formal education is in teaching and music composition, and I hold a bachelor’s degree in music education from Winona State University and a master’s and doctorate in music composition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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