BY EMMA TAYLOR
If we define an artist as a seeker, curiously driven by their desire to make sense of the world, then Lisa DiFranza is an artist to her core. DiFranza was born into a dream scenario for the creatively inclined. Her parents, artists themselves, both taught at The Art Students League in New York City where she grew up. While her sister studied painting, DiFranza found herself drawn to theater arts. Her early passion went on to inform her professional path as a theater director—working in community-based settings and professional theaters, taking part in off-Broadway productions, and feeding off the creative energy of her peers.
“I’m a collaborator and I work primarily with people in groups, whether it’s kids, adults, college students. I’m really interested in drawing the creativity from other people and sharing the experience of being human through making art,” she said of her artistic foundation. DiFranza’s gravitation toward coactive expression led her to a life of sharing the artistic experience in various places around the country prior to moving to Florida. She was the director of The Children’s Theater of Maine in Portland before moving to Illinois where she taught students in the visual, media and performing arts at Columbia College of Chicago.
Through her colorful experiences, DiFranza seems to have developed a unique talent for observing her surroundings and translating them to the world in beautiful and unexpected ways. She once worked with staff, adults, and kids from a
homeless shelter to create something called The Living News, a project she describes as a piece of “poetic journalism theater” that functioned as a “living newspaper about homelessness in the city.”
When the pandemic hit and DiFranza’s longtime love of cooperative creation was suddenly restricted, she decided to reacquaint herself with the more individual practice of painting. DiFranza has painted since she was young, but, as she’s the self-described “theater kid” of the family, it was never her career or her primary means of artistic expression.
DiFranza moved to Florida about seven years ago and first worked as the Assistant Principal for arts education at Manatee School for the Arts before becoming the Cultural Curator for the Art Ovation Hotel in Sarasota. She found a professional sweet spot as curator—a position that married her background in the performing arts and her love of the visual arts. Unfortunately, her role in the hospitality sector also meant she was one of the first people to be laid off in March of 2020. But
with a new landscape came a new opportunity to interpret and speak to the changing world around her.
DiFranza’s first day of unemployment and lockdown also marked the first day of a yearlong painting series, during which she implored herself to create and share the fruit of her efforts each day. Her daily small-scale works were mostly gouache on paper depictions of the state of her surroundings in downtown Bradenton. “By posting every day, I didn’t have to love everything. It got a real creative flow going
that otherwise I might have edited or pulled back from, or made myself uncomfortable about, because the need to communicate overrode the need to create something perfect,” she said of her journey.
Now that the world has reintegrated, DiFranza has not abandoned her painting, nor has she forgotten her passion for theater, teaching, sharing, and working with others. She has now reached a place where all the elements of her artistic voyage are converging.
DiFranza had the opportunity to exhibit her paintings from her “one creation a day” year at MARA Studio and Gallery in Sarasota, and things really came full circle when she was featured at Art Ovation Hotel as a guest artist, a program that she started herself while working as their Cultural Curator. She has also joined the communal studio Creative Liberties in Sarasota where she now enjoys working alongside other creative minds.
Moving from the confines of her kitchen to a studio has allowed DiFranza to expand upon her painting. She now does many large-scale works with acrylic on canvas, one of which took over the window display at a local Saks Fifth Avenue. “I have a real nostalgia for old New York. Saks gave me a wall to display on, but I was told the window was off-limits, and for merchandise only. I did a big painting of the Saks store on 5th Avenue in New York, the Saks mothership. They put it in the window and it sold! It was fun! It felt like a bit of outsmarting,” she said with a mischievous giggle.
DiFranza exhibits a childlike invigoration about rediscovering her love of painting, but she is just as excited to get back to working in a collaborative environment. It feels appropriate that the lack of community we all experienced during Covid drove
her to find a new avenue for her art, but, however solitary, her painting is still motivated by a driving force to connect. She has discovered a love of live
painting at corporate events, and even a wedding— often allowing her subjects to participate as more than just scenery and dash on a paint swirl or two of their own. Her ideas for continuing to build upon her talent and utilize her passion seem to evolve as steadily as the environment in which she realizes them.
DiFranza and her partner live on the Manatee River near downtown Bradenton and much of her ‘Covid-era’ work is focused on the changing moods and light of our scenic inlet. It’s no surprise then that Bradenton Magazine’s Publisher, Paula
Wright, given the recommendation from Brenda Boyd May who has DiFranza’s work hanging in her office, commissioned her for this issue’s cover that features a boat parade on the river. Her whimsical style is perfect for capturing the joyful and ethereal tone of the scene in Manatee County.
“I love painting! I’m very dedicated as a painter to responding to the world. That Covid year was not an anomaly—it’s something that was in me. Whatever art I’m doing, it’s about connecting to people and responding to my world and trying to give something back.” -Lisa DiFranza
Lisa DiFranza’s artwork is currently up at Island Gallery on Main Street in Bradenton. It can also be viewed on her website lisadifranza.com and will be on display at the Art Ovation Hotel in the first week of December as she’s showcased again as one of their guest artists.