ArtStream’s Story

ArtStream’s Story

Sally Kinka, Patricia Krauss, Emilia O’Connor, Nicolette Stearns, and Patricia Woolsey co-founded ArtStream, Inc. in May 2005. The five co-founders met while working at Imagination Stage, a children’s theatre located in Bethesda, Maryland. They were united by a passion for the arts and saw performing as both a method of healing and self-expression. The co-founders made it their mission to bring everyone opportunities to express themselves, especially those most in need of an outlet. These populations included children in hospitals, children experiencing grief, wounded servicemembers, and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Over the course of many kitchen table discussions, ArtStream was born.

“All of us saw the power of the arts, and we wanted to use (the arts) to move society forward in some way.” — Patricia Woolsey, Founding Executive Director, via Montgomery Magazine, August/September 2015

ArtStream’s first job was through Camp Caring, hosted by Hospice Caring, Inc. The camp is designed for children experiencing grief. ArtStream’s puppetry workshop gave campers a fun project that helped them find their own voice. After that, community members started calling with interest in more programming from ArtStream. With such an outpouring of enthusiasm, ArtStream’s co-founders knew that by growing ArtStream they could reach hundreds of people who needed the arts in their lives. They began the process of incorporating as a nonprofit. The co-founders had no experience in starting a business, but their passion for changing lives helped the organization to achieve success.

Pirate Sally at Camp Caring. Photo by Patricia Woolsey.

Pirate Sally at Camp Caring. Photo by Patricia Woolsey.

ArtStream’s longest running partnership started the following September: music and dance classes for adults at Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children (CSAAC). ArtStream’s flagship Inclusive Theatre Companies for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) started in October of 2006. Both of these programs continue to thrive today.


ArtStream Co-founders at Gala 2014. Photo by Mike Silva

ArtStream Co-founders L to R, Nicolette Stearns, Sally Kinka, Emilia O’Connor, Patti Woolsey, Patty Krauss

ArtStream started as a group of teaching artists who believed in the value of the arts to improve lives. Because of these five amazing women ArtStream was able to begin its ground breaking work.

  • Sally Kinka
  • Patricia Krauss, MS
  • Emilia O’Connor, MA Ed
  • Nicolette Stearns, MA Ed
  • Patricia Woolsey, RDT

Founding Executive Director

Patricia Woolsey served as Executive Director from 2005 to 2014 and as Artistic Director from 2014 to 2015. Throughout her tenure, Patricia laid the groundwork for ArtStream’s administration, funding channels, and reputation for high quality programming. She was awarded a 2009 Local Hero Award from Bank of America and a 2013 Community Award by the Montgomery County Executive’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities. We are forever grateful to Patricia for her leadership and commitment to building ArtStream.

History of Inclusive Theatre Companies (ITCs)

While at Imagination Stage, a children’s theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, the five co-founders were trained in a process called Barrier-Free Theatre*, originally developed and pioneered by Sally Bailey. Using the Barrier-Free model, adult actors with disabilities are empowered to create characters in original musicals that reflect their own interests and abilities. In 2005, Imagination Stage began to focus their mission on theatre programming for children. Knowing that this would exclude the dozens of adults with disabilities who benefitted from the Barrier-Free program, the theatre contacted ArtStream. ArtStream developed its Inclusive Theatre Companies in Arlington, Gaithersburg, and Silver Spring so that these adults and others could have a place to express themselves. Since then, the Inclusive Theatre Companies grew from four to six companies and further defined their own distinct development process.

Once Upon a Time, 2010 Gaithersburg Inclusive Theatre Company A. Photo by Lyle Ganz.

Once Upon a Time, 2010 Gaithersburg Inclusive Theatre Company A. Photo by Lyle Ganz.

*Barrier-Free Theatre techniques are still taught by Sally Bailey at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. Barrier-Free Theatre: Including Everyone in Theatre Arts – in Schools, Recreation, and Arts Programs – Regardless of (Dis)Ability, a comprehensive guide to these techniques and their benefits, was published in 2010.

Success Stories

Learn about ArtStream’s impact from the people who have experienced it! See all of our Success Stories.

Actor Spotlight: Caroline Grabow

Actor Spotlight: Allie Welch

ArtStream Celebrates 15 Years!

Actor Spotlight: Patrick Jones