Mentor

Kayli House Cusick

OWNER / OIL AND COTTON / DALLAS TX / 1992 / VISUAL ARTS

Kayli House Cusick is the co-owner of Oil and Cotton Creative Exchange in Dallas, Texas, which blends social entrepreneurship with arts education. She received a BA in Music from Reed College in 1997 and an MM in Composition from the University of North Texas College of Music in 2002. Prior to opening Oil and Cotton with partner Shannon Driscoll, Kayli worked as a curriculum designer, piano teacher, and composer (as well as a waitress, photo retouching studio manager, traffic engineer’s assistant, algebra tutor, yoga teacher, pizza maker, waitress, waitress again, music theory tutor, choral accompanist, oh yeah, and waitress). When not running Oil and Cotton or teaching piano students, she can be found still slingin’ hash at home in Oak Cliff with her husband Matt Cusick, their daughter Kathleen, and dog Ginger.

Voted the “Best Place to Start a Revolution” by the Dallas Observer, Oil and Cotton originally opened in conjunction with the first 2010 Better Block, a neighborhood activist event protesting car-centric zoning laws. Oil and Cotton is a place to generate and share ideas and make things happen, serving students and artists of all ages through classes, exhibitions, and in partnership with the major cultural institutions of Dallas. They are known for bringing their resourceful and thoughtful hands-on learning activities to museums, schools, and public events, as well as surprising classes ranging from taxidermy to childbirth to hardware hacking. In 2013, Oil and Cotton became the first educational facility to be displayed as an art exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art. Oil and Cotton has been featured in D Magazine, Dallas Observer, Dallas Morning News, D Moms, Southern Living, and the New York Times.
My favorite class was our freshman required I.A., Integration of the Arts. There was no limit in that class. Art was made with sound, visual, movement, gesture, words. All the clusters came together as artists, drew upside-down, danced ridiculously in bags, spoke in Laban Efforts, and distilled creativity to such clear fundamental elements that it blew the possibilities wide open. It all made sense after that, and I didn’t have to worry or doubt being a musician who made art, or vice versa. I also loved physics with Mr. Diffie and ceramics with Mr. Tabor. And our piano turned ‘synth’ teacher Celia Bennett was amazing, and not like yogurt amazing, but truly out of this world. Sporting her mirrored shades in the dark MIDI lab, she would make us lay on the floor and listen to whale sounds for the entire class hour, sneak us out the side door to go dance in the fountains, or have us go drumming in a skyscraper, whether or not we were allowed. Yet for all her free-spiritedness, you did not want to show up to her class with a half-practiced song. She was never satisfied with your playing until she got goosebumps. I think Shawn Heller was the only one who achieved that.

Memories include stomping the clay, my quivering lame voice sight singing in front of real singers, improvising a perspiring orange on a Yamaha DX-7, radical teachers covertly giving us the answers to standardized tests, playing Edith Fromage – I invented cheese in France in the early part of the 18th century, PASS THE COMIC as a mainstay of all auditorium gatherings, being at school until midnight making stuff, fiesta salad day, and the look on my friends’ faces when I won the calculus award. It all shaped my career because my experience at Arts affirmed that I had a place among people of purpose and that I wasn’t the lone weirdo in a football school. Establishing that kind of security in high school, when we’re all at our most insecure, translates into all kinds of situations and emboldens people in adulthood. Taking risks in business, speaking up
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