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Community support: MIAD alum on France residency

Although Paula DeStefanis ’85 (Illustration) works full-time as the director of the Arts Mill, she does not always get the time to focus on her own artistic practice. Recently, DeStefanis welcomed the opportunity to dive into her own work at a residency at Château d’Orquevaux in Champagne-Ardenne, France.

“Being an artist can be a lonely life choice,” says DeStefanis. “Being in a community of support, much like art school, can do wonders for the soul. It helped me see that what I was doing was valid and gave me a strong desire to continue on the path I began.” Rejuvenated from her residency experience, DeStefanis returns to Wisconsin with a renewed commitment to her artistic practice.

As director of the Art Mill, DeStefanis has found it challenging to commit the time to fully enter the “mental space where art is a priority. At my residency, it was a priority.” Using this dedicated time, DeStefanis produced a series of paintings, titled “What I couldn’t say,” that had been on her mind. “With the luxury of space, time and support, I created manically, producing an entire body of work,” she says. “It was like a long-distance run. I began slowly picking up speed with each canvas, and by the end was painting fast and furiously. It was such a great feeling!”

The sense of community at the residency also fed DeStefanis’ practice. “[O]ne thing that struck me was a sense of validation,” she continues. “I [was] provided so much support from the directors, staff and fellow artists which helped support my practice while there.” Focusing on her practice uninterrupted for eight or more hours a day, DeStefanis says she “can’t recall a time I have been so nourished artistically.”

The impact of DeStefanis’ residency on her own practice is tangible and will surely go on to impact her community of Wisconsin artists, including the MIAD community. DeStefanis remains connected to the college through events like the Holiday Sale, and her paintings were part of the inaugural exhibition of alumni work, “From This Point Forward,” at the MIAD Gallery at The Ave.

On why she remains involved with MIAD, DeStefanis credits the college’s small size and tight-knit community. “Support is important for an artistic practice. Seeking it where I feel most at home seems logical to me,” she explains. “Because [MIAD] was small, it felt much like a family—a family of artists of all disciplines, and we all hung out together. Influencing one another with our craft. That was very impactful.”

DeStefanis was originally scheduled to complete the Château d’Orquevaux residency in 2020. But due to the COVID pandemic, her stay was pushed back three years. “In the end, the timing proved to be ideal,” says DeStefanis. “We go through different stages in our art careers. I knew when I went I was feeling a shift in my practice. This experience helped me see that.”

“With the residency behind me, I plan on entering into a full-time studio practice in 2024,” finishes DeStefanis. “Having been provided such a luxury of time to create, I now know I crave more of that.”

Keep up with DeStefanis, learn more about MIAD’s Fine Art program and explore alumni resources!

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