Meet Ila Faye Miller, director of Studio By the Tracks and a gifted visionary with a unique ability to connect with people, especially those with autism and related disabilities. Ila Faye, who was once told by a high school teacher that she has an understanding heart, is as kind and gentle as they come. Her work with emotionally conflicted children and adults spans forty years, and her passion and dedication continue to touch many lives.
Tell us about Studio By the Tracks and how you got involved.
Founded in 1989 by Maralyn Wilson and me, Studio By The Tracks (SBTT) is a nonprofit art studio providing free classes to children with emotional conflict, adults with autism or mental illness. For the children, we strive to have an environment free from judgement with adult staff and volunteers as positive role models. Our mission for the adults is to change the way people view those with disabilities by showcasing their artwork to give them attention for what they can do. Adults receive 60% from the sale of their work.
I am originally from Roanoke, AL. Graduated from U of A in Tuscaloosa, married in 1965 and came to Birmingham. Taught school for 2 years here and then began my family. I later pursued a master’s in education from UAB. I have 2 sons and 4 grandchildren who love coming to the Studio to make artwork. I was a stay-at-home mom until my sons were older and I began teaching at Alan Cott School for children with autism. After working there for about 5 years, I joined Maralyn in starting the Studio.
As executive director of SBTT, what challenges do you face in your job?
Raising money. SBTT is a small organization doing a big job of including people on the “fringe of society.” Serving more people is a goal, but without additional funding, that is not possible.
Is there a glaring misconception or stereotype that people still have about mental illness today?
I think a lot of people attach a “shame label” when it comes to mental illness. I have chronic depression, which I freely admit, and I am glad there is medication that can help. I believe some people suffer unnecessarily because of the stigma placed on mental illness.
How can people get involved and help SBTT? What are your biggest challenges? Biggest needs?
Our biggest challenge is raising money. Currently one of our biggest needs is funding to repair our aging building, which is slowly rotting away.
Please describe the person in your life who had the most influence on your career.
The students who come to the Studio have made a big impact on my life. They have helped me value the process of making art rather than the outcome.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Always be kind to other people.
What advice would you give to others?
Just be true to yourself.
Favorite vacation destination?
A road trip with “junking” as the main purpose.
What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Favorite thing to do on a Saturday night?
Play Scrabble accompanied by a glass of wine.
Favorite local restaurant?
What music are you listening to these days?
I enjoy classical music and will definitely sing along to some Kitty Wells or Tammy Wynette.
What books are you currently reading?
Wash by Margaret Wrinkle and various mysteries
Do you have any personality quirks or irrational fears?
It might seem strange, but I am not really comfortable in large crowds. I think my personality is “split.” I am an introvert and extrovert in the same body.
If your house was on fire, what’s the one non-living thing you would grab?
My dad’s watch.
Name three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and God).
Studio By The Tracks, my dogs and my quilt collection.
Thanks for sharing, Ila Faye! To find out more about Studio By the Tracks visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/studiobythetracks.
And a big thanks to Beth Hontzas for today’s amazing photos!