Open Hearts Art Center was developed by three women who had a passion for creating a program that combined their love for art with their desire to make a difference in the lives of differently-abled adults. Based on a holistic approach to habilitative care combined with the use of multiple forms of expression, Open Hearts Art Center has been serving adults with disabilities since June of 2005. With only a small amount of day programs for adults with intellectual disabilities in the western North Carolina area, and none that focused solely on the arts as a therapeutic approach, Open Hearts has been a one of a kind program for the members of our community.
Seeing inherent value in each individual’s artwork as an avenue for self-growth Open Hearts emphasizes the visual arts. Our staff encourages daily reflection of each student’s rich history and personal story as a source of inspiration for their work. In addition to two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms of art, Open Hearts also encourages expression through performing arts such as music, dance, movement, drama and theater. Offering a variety of choices increases the opportunity for everyone to exercise their imagination.
Open Hearts became incorporated and received their 501-c3 nonprofit status in 2004. In 2005 they received their Medicaid provider identification number to provide billable services though the Division of Medical Assistance as well as state funded services through our Local Management Entity, Western Highlands. The Board of Directors was developed consisting of students, parents, case managers, art advocates and community members. The directors fund raised, acquired in kind donations and received support from community members to procure monies needed to begin serving this population. June 1st2005 Open Hearts began offering classes and have grown ten-fold since their inception.
Sonia Pitts, Jessie Francis, Debbie Harris
Sonia Pitts, Jessie Francis, Debbie HarrisSonia Pitts is a native of Asheville, where she grew up taking art classes from local instructors in early childhood. She graduated from the University of North Carolina in Asheville in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology where she focused on Creative Arts Therapies. Sonia has been working with adults with intellectual disabilities for over 15 years, and was a co-founder of Open Hearts Art Center. Sonia oversees human resources, various program operations, outcome development, corporate compliance, as well as assists in strategic planning, and organizational goal monitoring. Sonia enjoys spending time with her family and friends, photography, urban exploration, mixed media design, traveling, gardening and seeing live music.
Jessie Francis studied Human Services at Montreat College and ended her time there with an internship with a young artist who had autism. That led to working with other adults living with various developmental disabilities. Most were artists and Jessie, a lover of the arts, had found her place nurturing the expressions of this population. Jessie co-founded Open Hearts Art Center and is the Director of Finances, overseeing all fiscal operations. She loves her administrative, behind the scenes work in this creative, inspiring setting where every day is bright and bold with color and life. In addition to her work, Jessie's days are spent with music, dance, yoga, reading, travel on the brain, the outdoors, and her friends and beautiful family.
Debbie Dearborn Harris, Co-Founder and Director of Clientele and Events of Open Hearts Art Center is a lover of all things art, family, travel and music related. Her art education began in High School where she attended the North Carolina School of the Arts then later graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from Appalachian State University. She now lives vicariously through the artists of Open Hearts Art Center, nurturing their talents, creating events to cultivate their self-confidence and bring awareness to their vast abilities.
Alexandra LoveAlex grew up in the small, nearby town of Weaverville and recently became a part of Open Hearts in June of 2016. She received her B.S. in Art Management from Appalachian State University in 2012. She loves painting, hiking, camping, snowboarding and traveling. One of her most memorable life experiences thus far is her 14 month journey around Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. She feels so blessed to be working with such wonderful and inspiring folks at Open Hearts!
Brit DavisBrit Davis is an artist and paraprofessional living in Swannanoa, NC. She joined
the eclectic community of Open Hearts Art Center in July of 2015. Brit is also working on her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Expressive Arts
Therapy through a low-residency program at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT.
Over time, Brit's art has become more psychological in nature. She currently is working on a series of chromogenic prints that abstractly depict a theory of autism posed by Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, known as "mindblindness." Brit is specifically drawn to further researching the diagnosis of autism through her paraprofessional work, personal art, and educational pursuits. Brit is beyond grateful to share the process of art making with the students at Open Hearts Art Center.
Bryan Ottaviano ~ Program Manager
Bryan Ottaviano ~ Program ManagerBryan is a performer, writer, healer, director, and choreographer hailing from New England. He has been working in professional theatre for nearly twenty years. Some of his favorite roles include Horatio in Hamlet and Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown’s Christmas.
Bryan has been working with the differently-abled his entire life, sighting his aunt as a major inspiration to give back to a world that has blessed him in so many ways. Coming to work at Open Hearts six years ago was like coming home. You can find him as the resident Jester, filling the days with smiles and laughter.
Christina TorresChristina lives in Mars Hill, NC on a a piece of land that is currently being cultivated into an edible forest garden. She just built a tiny house and is really enjoying the journey of being a tiny house dweller and living amongst the plants. She is very passionate about food, music, art, crafting, the outdoors, and education. She loves all things whimsical and would always prefer to be outside.
Erica DeatonErica is a single mother of three children. She has worked in the field of developmental disabilities for nearly eight years, most notably individuals with autism for seven of those years. She feels blessed to have been employed with Open Hearts for almost a year. Erica is a poetic person with a passion for music, drama, and all of the arts. She enjoys engaging the artists in acting exercises and other drama activities.
Jaime Lauren Webb
Jaime Lauren WebbJaime moved to Asheville from Florida with her family in 2006. She has worked at Open Hearts since 2011. When she first began her main interests were in music and song writing, but after working along side the brilliant artists at Open Hearts they have expanded to painting and embroidery as well. Jaime loves being able to collaborate one on one with Open Hearts artists and always looks forward to art shows and Boundless Art trips. Jaime loves her job very much and hopes to be with Open Hearts for a very long time.
Julie Newton ~ Studio Manager
Julie Newton ~ Studio ManagerOriginally from Jacksonville, FL., Julie grew up loving the water, outdoors, and any animal she meets. Julie graduated with an art degree from the University of Mississippi in the wonderful town of Oxford. Specializing in illustration and pottery, Julie loves all types of art and is writing and illustrating her own children's book. Currently, Julie lives in west Asheville with her beautiful cat, and works at Laughing Frog farm in Marshall, NC in her free time.
Karen SnyderFollowing graduation from UNCA in Health Car Administration, Karen has had the privilege of serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilites and their families for over 25 years. She joined Open Hearts in 2011, initially as a volunteer and then as a staff. As a paraprofessional Karen enjoys enriching the lives of our artists through the arts and life skills.
Marshall HammerMarshall harmonizes her calling to connect with the artists in a meaningful way, with her passion and prowess in video/media arts. As a patient, accepting soul, she looks forward to coming to Open Hearts, and can often be found taking footage of the artists' enthusiastic performances.
Salley Williamson ~ Development & Communications Manager
Salley Williamson ~ Development & Communications ManagerSalley Williamson grew up in the lowcountry of South Carolina. After high school, she migrated to Montana, where she lived for 10 years before moving to Asheville in 2008. She received a BA in Social Work from Carroll College in Helena, MT and then went on to earn a MA of Arts in Fine Arts, Integrated Arts and Education at the University of Montana, Missoula and a MEd in Curriculum and Instruction at Montana State University-Bozeman. She traveled for three years as a one-woman show with the Art Mobile of Montana, a nonprofit arts outreach program that provides access to contemporary art exhibits and hands-on art lessons.
Salley plays the upright bass and sings with country soul trio, Underhill Rose. She enjoys creating stained glass windows for churches and homes and has exhibited in local galleries. Salley loves working at Open Hearts Art Center so much that she misses being there on her days off.
Sarah CohenBorn and raised in Asheville, Sarah has spent her life saturated in western North Carolina art and culture. Due to the nature of her mother’s work, she was brought up around the community of adults with developmental disabilities. Sarah has a background in visual arts and a bachelor's in psychology from UNCA. She is a part of various community building organizations such as food not bombs and Asheville tranzmission prison books program. When Sarah isn't bouncing around at work or in the community, she enjoys riding her bike, hiking, crocheting, reading, and a slice of pizza. Sarah is currently working with one of the students helping her start her own business selling greeting cards. She has been working at Open Hearts since May of 2016 and enjoys teaching art classes as well as working one on one with students on their projects, goals, and in the community.
Seth McPhersonSeth is an Asheville native--born and raised--and grew up with an older brother on the Autism Spectrum. A writer and music-lover, Seth appreciates all forms of art and loves to encourage others in their creative pursuits. He spent 18 months traveling through New Zealand and Asia with his wife before joining Open Hearts Art Center and regards his travels as one of the greatest times in his life.
Stacy McPherson ~ Assistant Program Manager
Stacy McPherson ~ Assistant Program ManagerStacy McPherson, Assistant Program Manager, is from Mills River, NC. She has worked in the human service field since 2008. She lived and worked in the horticulture field in New Zealand and SE Asia for 18 months, before coming to work at Open Hearts Art Center. Stacy is grateful to teach and be inspired by the students and fellow staff through this passionate program. Her interests include hiking, camping, woodburning, gardening, traveling, and experiencing new cultures. She loves anything outdoors and adventure.
Tara Brummett ~ Qualified Professional
Tara Brummett ~ Qualified ProfessionalTara Brummett is an Asheville native who became a part of Open Hearts Art Center in August of 2015. Tara enjoys spending time on the water with her husband, son, and faithful pup-panion. She has a B.S. in Therapeutic Recreation from Mars Hill College and has been working in the human services field for over 20 years.
Tim SlusherTim relocated to Asheville from Pennsylvania in April of 2016. During his last year in Pennsylvania, Tim had been volunteering at an art therapy studio and realized he had discovered a new passion. When he found out he would be moving to Asheville, he knew he needed to find a similar place. His search lead him to Open Hearts. One of the first things he did when he arrived in Asheville was begin volunteering. It didn't take long to realize he had found a new home!
Tim has an interior design degree from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and has spent over 20 years doing commercial and residential interior design, in Boston, Charlotte and then Philadelphia. One of his most exciting jobs was a hotel project in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. When circumstances lead to the move to Asheville, Tim decided it was time to start a new chapter in life. He loves working with the awesome folks at Open Hearts and is thoroughly enjoying this new adventure. The artists at Open Hearts are fearlessly creative and Tim finds that completely inspiring!