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Dale Austin

Communications Coordinator

Office Information:

Room 2534E
1100 North University
phone: 248.912.8108 (c)


BGS, University of Michigan, 1982

My Introduction to Art

Me, 1965, Vivian Williams' studio, Coshocton, Ohio.

Vivian Williams was my very first art teacher in 1965 and 1966. Consider for a moment what was happening in the US during those years. The civil rights movement was reaching every corner of the country, even the small town of Coshocton, Ohio.

Miss Vivian was Black. A middle-class white family sending their child to “that” side of town to study was a deeply radical act. It was a conscious decision on their part-they wanted to inoculate me against prevailing attitudes. I’d like to believe they succeeded.

We moved from Coshocton in the late 1960s. Miss Vivian set me on a creative path that continues to this day. My early jobs and my career at the University are direct results of the nudge she gave me into the visual arts.

Vivian Williams Saunders died at age 86 on June 6, 1998.

My Life Was a Decade-Long Disaster (Literally) 

Here is how it began:
It is Friday September 2nd, 2005. The levees have failed in New Orleans and reports on conditions throughout the Gulf Region are grim. Nancy and I are driving home and listening to the radio when the Red Cross call for 4000 volunteers is repeated. We look at each other, and the only thing said is "which one of us goes?" It was as simple as that, without any forethought or consideration. We turned the car around and drove to the Washtenaw County Chapter to find out what that would mean. I'm usually asked "why did you decide to go?" Well, it was my turn, and I could. If it had been a month earlier or later, obligations would have prevented it. For other disasters we've sent money or stuff when we've had it. This time I had my 45 year-old carcass to donate.

If you are so inclined, you can see my full diaries from Louisiana here. (It's an old website, so the formatting is a bit wonky)

Over the next ten years I participated in disaster relief operations locally and in five other states. I became qualified as an instructor in several specialty areas, but spent most of my time in logistics. If you want to know some of the details check out the CV link under my picture.

What did I learn in that ten years? First, that it is amazing what a bunch of dedicated people can accomplish with scant resources, failed communication systems, and destroyed infrastructure. But I also learned just how much more impact a disaster has on poor communities than those better off. I saw racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in how governments responded. I watched a room full of people dig the loose change from their pockets, in some cases the only money they had, to pay for life-saving medication for a leader of their community. I witnessed acts of heroism and cowardice, self-sacrifice and greed.

I am better off for all of that.

Oh, Yeah, I also Take Pictures

Lands End, San Francisco, in the fog

P.S. I am an amateur machinist