Creating art can be a cathartic experience, and for some, it provides a powerful mode of communication.
As executive director of Hope Center for the Arts in Orange County, California, Michele Vavonese ’92 helps connect adults with intellectual disabilities with the performing and visual arts to transform their lives.
“The arts are intrinsically therapeutic, opening the mind to communicating on different and sometimes primal levels that humans have been using since the dawn of our time,” she said. “Tapping into this can be incredibly important to intellectually disabled adults who often have challenges with processing information, in social interactions and with communicating their inner thoughts and feelings. Painting is an empowered and beautiful way to overcome these challenges.”
As a trained artist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from SUNY Oswego and a Master of Fine Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Michele also feels a personal connection to art, particularly painting, in expressing her own ideas and thoughts.
In her mixed media series, Look at What I Am Saying, she portrays: “The mouth, at once vulnerable or passionate, joyous or savage, impregnated with words, it bursts with micro expressions and yet remains still at any given moment.”
Drawing and painting since she was a toddler, Michele said she often uses multiple media within one piece, often employing watercolors when she wants “to feel a fluidity of movement on the paper or when I want the illusion of light or a glow.”
“Watercolor also has the ability to surprise,” she said. “It is a quick-drying medium, so you must be deliberate in your marks or be willing to honor the direction the paint may take you. This is a good ability to have, as it’s often within mistakes that we find new approaches and looks to our work.”
Her work has been exhibited in galleries across California and in New York, including at the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn, N.Y., Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute in Utica, N.Y., and the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y.
The Long Beach, Calif., resident also serves on the California Arts Council and reviews artists’ grant applications.