Meet Debra Disman
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We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Debra Disman. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Debra below.
Debra, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. We’d love to hear about a project that you’ve worked on that’s meant a lot to you.
I have been privileged to do many wonderful and challenging projects over the years, but I would say the two I am most excited about currently are my book, “CONCURRENCIES: Charlotte Salomon and Eva Hesse: Genius, Trauma and the Creative Imagination”, an exploration through images of the commonalities between the lives and work of artists Charlotte Salomon and Eva Hesse, published by ReflectSpace Gallery/Glendale Arts and Culture in conjunction with my solo show “I Can’t I Won’t I Will I Do” which was held there in 2023; and “The Center Will Not Hold”, a performance piece done as part of “Swept Away: Love Letter to a Surrogate”, which was a community-oriented artistic project that aimed to create a transcontinental heartbeat across America. With two collaborators, I was one of 65 Los Angeles County artists who presented live performances over Earth Day Weekend 2023 at the Santa Monica State Beach near the Annenberg Community Beach House. It was a fantastic experience, and we hope to further develop the piece!
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
Born and raised in the Chicago area, the Chicago Art Institute became my second home. I took art classes growing up both in and out of school. In high school, I also started working in community arts as a volunteer and continued this when I went to college at the University of Iowa. I was an art major with a focus on painting but also studied drawing, printmaking, literature and creative writing, and was in the Iowa Undergraduate Writers’ Workshop in Poetry. I have always had a passionate interest in both image and text (“art and writing” as we used to call it!) and their interrelationship, and have sought ways to put them together, as evidenced in the work I do now, which traverses book objects, sculpture, installation and hanging tapestry works.
In college I also studied a year in France, learning the language and traveling extensively, imbibing masterworks, architecture, landscape and craft, which sparked a lifelong love of travel and cultural explorations. I have taught since the very beginning of my career. When I moved to San Francisco after college, I began teaching at the De Young Museum and through their urban outreach program, which has informed my work ever since as a teaching artist for many years in the Bay Area and now across Los Angeles County, engaging diverse communities. Working as both a solo practitioner alone in the studio and in the public sphere of community engagement are interrelated aspects of my practice, and offer a rich life filled with creative challenges and rewards, in which to grow, continue to learn and develop, and thrive.
How can we best help foster a strong, supportive environment for artists and creatives?
I think it is very important to teach entrepreneurial and business skills including budgeting, financial planning, networking and the ability to source and follow-up on opportunities. Studio space is at a premium, and artists are masters of using what is available! It is critical to provide affordable studio space through city, county, state and federal initiatives and budget allocations, and for government at all levels to recognize that investment in the arts is fundamental to create and maintain a healthy and thriving society.
We must recognize and fight unnecessary gatekeeping and bureaucracy, unproductive and restrictive elitism and status issues and unhealthy competitiveness, hierarchy and internalized pecking orders by providing opportunities to students, emerging, mid-career and established artists in the form of education, exhibitions, presentations and gatherings and support systems.
We must continue to address inequities as regards to race, gender and class which can severely limit opportunities and challenge basic functioning in the art world and world-at-large through civil rights activities, legislation and providing opportunities geared to those disregarded by the system.
There are institutional and organizational efforts being made to combat, mitigate and better these conditions, but it is slow-going, and it remains to be seen whether such efforts will continue and grow or whether they will be revealed to be a trend, momentarily capturing our ever-decreasing attention spans.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
I had a San Francisco-based entrepreneurial enterprise for 15 years called ArtiFactory Studio, which provided decorative painting, color consultation, surface design and murals to individuals, organizations and businesses, and I really loved it! I continued to teach at this time, and went through the certificate programs of both the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in San Francisco and the International Association of Colour Consultants/Designers in San Diego to further develop my skills in those areas. Later, in Los Angeles, I attended the UCLArts and Healing Social and Emotional Arts (SEA) Certificate Program, The Annenberg—Inner-City Arts Professional Development Program and “Creativity” series, and the Cal State Los Angeles/City of LA Department of Cultural Affairs Community Teaching Artist Program to provide resources, information, further skills and support for my teaching. I found gathering with others in learning communities invaluable! Not only for information, but for networking and sharing. I was in Business Network International (BNI) for two years in San Francisco and learned so much being around other professionals in an organized way, and surmounting that learning curve! It really prepared me for the groups I am involved with now. I learned that nothing is that different…all people generally want the same things: kindness, listening, understanding and support.
When I relocated to Los Angeles in 2012, I knew I wanted to recommit to an evolving studio practice and teach in the community. I began proposing bookmaking and other workshops to my local Library, and to my delighted surprise, was able to start teaching almost right away. I had made artists’ books and taught bookmaking in San Francisco, but took the object of the book and the teaching of bookmaking to a whole other level in Los Angeles, which has developed into an ever-widening engagement with materials and multiple formats. There is so much opportunity here in LA if one is ready to work consistently and put oneself out there! By dint of persistent and concentrated effort, I have been able to develop a multi-faceted practice which has allowed me to exhibit my work in galleries, museums, universities and libraries across LA and the US and teach in an array of community settings and institutions. I am honored to be an enthusiastic local artist in residence at 18th Street Arts Center, serve as an artist-in-residence for the City of LA Department of Cultural Affairs, and to have received a Santa Monica Artist Fellowship in 2021. As in all things, the reward for work is more work!
- Website: https://debradisman.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/artifactorystudio/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/debra.disman
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/debradisman/
- Other: https://18thstreet.org/artists/debra-disman/
All images: Gene Ogami 2023