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August 5, 2015

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Carol Hart

Kate Hart
picture of Carol Hart
Today's profile features a badass lady near and dear to my heart: my mother in law, Carol Hart. From Louisiana debutante to Arkansas hippie in a house with no walls, from activist and teacher to nonprofit founder and artist, and from daughter to grandmother, Carol has never ceased to inspire me with her life, her kindness, and her dedication to her ideals.


Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) led you there?

Portrait of the Artist as
a Young Badass in College
Carol: My career of 41 years has been to advocate for inclusion and equal rights and opportunities for persons with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. A couple of early experiences pointed me in this direction. It was always understood (in my family) that if someone was not being treated fairly, it was my responsibility to stand by and support that person. This laid the foundation for what was to become my strong belief that all people belong and we all share in the responsibility to make that possible. Being a part of a civil rights movement in college and demonstrating to end racial segregation in East Texas helped broaden my beliefs.

My career since retiring 3 years ago is to pursue my love of art through my painting. As long as I can remember, I wanted to be an artist. Getting back to making art at this stage of life fills me with a sense of purpose, incredible joy and keen sense of urgency. Making art is not what I do, but more accurately who I am.

I love the fact that when painting time stands still - I don't make lists, hold conversations in my head, or revisit things in the past that I can do nothing about. Art touches some part of me that nothing else does.

Arkansas Gothic
(Carol and husband
on their farm in the 70s)
Kate: When and how did you decide to commit to your career?

Carol: It was really serendipitous. After a short stay working in a residential facility serving teens with both mental health issues and legal problems, my husband and I settled in Northwest Arkansas. Armed with a minor in Sociology, I was hired to work in a private non-profit serving children ages 6 to 20 with developmental disabilities. These children had not been allowed to attend public school and their parents had all been encouraged to place their children in an institution where "they would be better off with their own kind." After five years as a classroom teacher, I knew that these children and their families deserved better. Many of the parents were getting older and were less able to handle their children's physical needs. A sheltered workshop was the only service designed for adults with disabilities in our area.

life styles inc logoHearing the families' concerns and knowing that much more was needed, I started Life Styles, Inc.,, a non-profit with a mission to enthusiastically support individuals with disabilities in reaching their full potential as contributing members of the community. What began in a motel serving eight adults grew to providing a wide array of services including: supported living in the community, competitive employment services, College for Living (a collegiate program on the University of Arkansas campus), a vibrant visual arts center, and a performing arts program.

Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Carol: Yes, after retiring 3 years ago, I got back to my original plan as a painter. Even though I didn't paint during my working at Life Styles, I always knew that I was drawing on my creativity in program design and innovation, management style, facilities developed, and daily problem solving. My creativity definitely influenced my work. I always believed things could be done differently and better. I hired creative people that understood new ideas were encouraged. Developing the Blair Art Center was an opportunity to expand our services to supporting the people we served in expressing their own creativity and watching them grow as confident productive artists.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Carol: To be honest, just running a non-profit proved to be fairly challenging, but I think one of my biggest challenges was attracting, maintaining and supporting a competent workforce. The demand for services was great and we provided around the clock support for many people we served. It was hard to bring everyone up to a level of proficiency needed for the quality we were committed to. The bigger we got, the harder it became to influence individual staff members.

Kate: How do you stay inspired? Productive?

Carol: I am naturally an optimist. I just about always believe problems can be solved, people can be helped, and that if you work hard, you will succeed. Staying productive was never a problem. I loved working and always worked hard. Often, I wished I worked smarter, thereby getting more done.

In my new career as an artist, I am inspired by everything. By stories I hear, people I am around, art work I view, nature, my family, people I see on the street. Getting back in the habit of seeing as an artist, I see paintings everywhere. My frustration comes from not having the time to do all I want to do.

 City Lights by Carol Hart The Seekers 2 by Carol Hart A Promise of Rain by Carol Hart

"City Lights," "The Seekers," and "A Promise of Rain" by Carol Hart

Kate: How do you deal with negativity?

Carol: I'm not sure how well I handled it. I learned that it only takes one negative person to adversely affect the whole group in the work place. Initially I waited too long to confront and correct the situation. After that experience, when a negative person was identified, I confronted them, identified specific changes that were required, tried to provide support for change and if the person was unwilling or unable to change, removed them from the situation.

Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Carol: We were given a great opportunity to open and run a facility in a nearby town. It seemed like a perfect situation and we all assumed we would do great. There were problems from day one: staff problems, problems with the donor, disagreement about the overarching philosophy of the work. The staff I had lead the effort should have done well, but didn't. Rather than our realizing we were not a good fit, we had to hear it from the donor when we were basically fired. I was embarrassed more than anything. However, as I analyzed the situation, I realized that we could not have been successful because our vision was not the vision of our benefactor. I knew that my staff looked to me to see how we handled this failure. I met with my team, fully reported what had happened, allowed some time for comment and reflection, and then decided it was time to get back to work, doing what we knew we did well, and not to spend any more time thinking on what was in the past as we certainly couldn't change that.

Carol made the costume
a reality one Halloween.
Kate: What would your superhero costume look like?

Carol: It would have to look like a cat, but in the most extreme way. I've always considered myself a costume person, so my superhero costume would need to be over the top in creative appearance. I would also use humor as a means to save the world. Learning from my grandsons, I have been reminded how much humor and wittiness can improve any situation.

Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Carol: Recognize the gifts that individual women have and support them in using those gifts in whatever way they choose. Realize that due to circumstances many women hear what they cannot do and don't see themselves as strong capable women. It's important to confront those messages and help support women as they find their own voice. Today I paint with a wonderful group of women. I am experiencing a new opportunity to support other women and am benefiting from being supported by them.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Carol: Believe in yourself. Surround yourself with positive people. Seek out women that build you up. Don't take no for an answer. When you know something is wrong, don't be afraid to speak up. Silence is one of our greatest hurdles. Take joy in the relationships you have with other women.


Carol Hart is the founder and former director of Life Styles, Inc., a nonprofit organization supporting individuals with developmental disabilities. Carol has served on multiple committees for various Arkansas governors, been the subject of numerous media profiles, and has been honored with the Girl Scouts Women of Distinction Award, Charming Shoppes’ VOICES campaign, a Woman of History, and nominations as the Arkansas Executive of the Year. Life Styles has been nominated and/or named multiple times as the Arkansas Business Journal's Nonprofit of the Year.

Now retired, Carol pursues a career in painting. You can view some of her art on Pinterest, and her work is available for sale at Heartwood Gallery in Fayetteville and Two25 Gallery in Bentonville.

Get more Badass Ladies at or @badassladiesYSK!


  1. The epitome of badass and one of the greatest loves of my life.

    J Maynard


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