Autumn Hudgins’ earliest memories involve the arts. She’s been drawing for as long as she could pick up a pencil, dancing since she could walk, singing since she could talk. Though she’s graduated to bigger theatrical roles, she vividly remembers her debut as Mrs. Claus in a first grade production.
About the time Autumn entered her teenage years, the now 18-year-old high school senior made a life-changing discovery: she could take her passion for the arts and gift it to others through service. Some individuals plow through adulthood unsure of their life’s purpose, but this Choctaw teen on the cusp of graduation has fully cultivated hers into her Serving with HeART initiative.
“I believe deeply that it’s my duty as a human to shine a light to others,” said Autumn. “My purpose is to help people and move others to create.”
A spark to serve
Autumn was recently named one of Oklahoma’s top six youth volunteers by Prudential Financial’s Spirit of Community Awards program for outstanding service. Autumn’s first concerted volunteer effort coincided with her 13th birthday when she asked friends to collect clothing and toiletries for an organization assisting in the recovery and recuperation of human trafficking victims.
“I couldn’t imagine people around my age going through that,” said Autumn.
That party, which also included handing out kind notes to strangers at the mall, sparked Autumn’s creativity for service, inspiring her to look outside herself to help others.
Several years later, Autumn’s Serving with HeART initiative began to take shape, encompassing opportunities within the community to provide art to the underserved and educate others on the benefits of art.
Autumn volunteered for a summer at Studio 222, an after-school program helping metro kids develop self-esteem and resilience against at-risk behaviors. Autumn realized the students she was working with didn’t often have access to art in their schools, or elsewhere. Likewise as an intern at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medicine, Autumn noticed when visiting and delivering gifts to patients that sketch books were scarce. So she rallied her school to collect more than 900 art supplies for hospital patients.
While Autumn is grateful for opportunities to provide arts awareness to other kids in the metro, she can’t help but feel a sense of frustration that the benefits she’s gained from arts programs aren’t available to all kids.
“Arts funding is the first to go, and I don’t think that should be acceptable,” said Autumn. “People don’t realize how necessary these programs really are to development, assisting with math, science and English skills. Even if my voice is just a drop in the bucket, enough drops make an ocean.”
Not one to sit idly by, Autumn turned that frustration, and her drop in a bucket, into an initiative on social media, creating ArtsMatter2Us to engage her social circles in discussions about why art opportunities matter. Autumn started by interviewing local artists about the inspiration behind their work, and as her reach and engagement has gained momentum, she even scored an interview with Broadway producer Hunter Arnold
“I want to share stories not commonly told or heard for the purpose of touching someone’s life and moving them to change or action,” said Autumn.
Opening minds and hearts
One major benefit Autumn notes from her involvement in dance, theater and visual arts is a more open mind. Through her volunteer work, her year of service as Miss Southwest Oklahoma Outstanding Teen, involvement with Race Dance Academy and various productions with KidsAlive!, Autumn has met a variety of people who’ve impacted her view on the world and her desire to help others experience the world around them.
“The arts are like a gateway you can
choose to walk through that expose you to other communities, situations and concepts that people don’t always take time for,”
Autumn’s favorite eye- and heart-opening experience came from the Kaleidoscope program with KidsAlive!, providing performance opportunities for kids of all abilities. Experienced young actors like Autumn are paired with children with special needs to create a collaborative musical theatre production. The most challening and beloved charater Autumn has played to day was Mary Poppins, but the experience was made even sweeter through this unique program. On some nights of the show, Autumn played Mary Poppins while on others her partner played the lead, the two bonding closely while they developed the depth of Mary Poppins’ character together.
“Being in that position helped show me even more how the arts can benefit others and how to be a voice for those who don’t often get listened to,” said Autumn.
As Autumn contemplates her future after graduating from Choctaw High School this month, she knows she wants to open her mind further through travel, diverse experiences and new connections, even if she’s not yet sure where that plan will land her. She will attend college to study music performance, keeping up with acting classes and musical theatre to further her development into a well-rounded artist.
While Autumn’s dance icon has always been Fred Astaire, her Oklahoma role model is Kristen Chenoweth, whose breadth and depth of performance experiences Autumn aspires to.
“My dream is to become an actress on Broadway, then film and eventually an author and illustrator, maybe writing plays and books and creating a band,” laughs Autumn. “There is no end to my dreams and that’s primarily because my overall goal is to move people.”