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Arts and Entertainment

The healing power of art with artist Mike Scieszka

There is a notable phenomenon where people who see a performance or take an art class appear to be transformed. They look happier. Many claim to feel a newfound sense of joy, purpose and community. It’s a wonderful time for creative expression. After the dark ages, it is said, came the Renaissance. And that was art for everyone.

Allow me to introduce to you more than 30 artists who make up the corner Artisans’ Market at the DAC, and the other 45 artists who are currently exhibiting in the DAC’s community art show, “Whimsical Wonderland,” featuring fun, surreal, quirky and otherwise accessible art that is for sale at very reasonable prices through March 16.

Here you can find paintings of a moose casually sipping a beer while reclining on a park bench by Scott Bullock; an ethereal jellyfish and aspen trees wearing ballet shoes by Rebecca Lynn Dash; magical forests by Meg Gray. Human figures emerge from enormous copper plates by Lindsay Marks; Ken Harms pays homage to the place where science and nature meet to dance; Jim Lutomski delights with tipping teapots and Bryan Ayers gives you colorful eye-candy through his digital work on metal. You will find castles, fairies and woodland creatures, masks and sculptures.

This month’s artist spotlight is on Mike Scieszka, who is in this exhibit. He is a kind, tall, soft-spoken gentleman who helps make art possible through his tireless volunteer work as the DAC’s board president. When asked about his work as an artist, he has one goal – to delight the inner 7-year-old in all of us through his colorful and joyful acrylic paintings.

“Whether it’s a silly subject matter or a play on color, I want my paintings to bring joy to the people who buy them,” Scieszka said.

He is prolific. For the past 20 plus years, he has made it a priority to paint daily. “A day without painting is a wasted day,” he says. Scieszka paints on large canvases priced between $200 to $300 and he donates the proceeds to the American Cancer Society and the DAC.

Scieszka and his wife, Sue, are cancer survivors. Their perspective, grace, love and humor are inspiring. We discussed the healing aspects of the creative process. “I process things in phases, and my paintings are produced this way with one idea that evolves through a series,” he said. From castles to mushrooms, he has approached everything from micro to macro. “I reflect on what is happening in my life. I paint things that I enjoy. If it brings me happiness, I hope it will bring others happiness, too. When that happens, I feel good.”

Scieszka said he has processed some tough subject matters. He painted COVID-19 cells during the pandemic and they looked like mean little anthropomorphized blobs being squished by a shoe. He paints his cancer journey. He painted difficult scenes from inner-city life that show compassion for people who don’t have enough. But at the same time, he also hopes to share the work that brings happiness to people, as there isn’t enough of that.

The message behind Scieszka’s work mirrors the way he lives his life. He is resilient and generous, and finds his higher purpose is in giving others hope through his work. He helped lead the DAC through the darkest moments of the pandemic with optimism.

“The enthusiasm from the local artists is huge,” he said. “They experiment. They play. They laugh. Many were once scared and intimidated. This place has become warm and inviting, a place for people to gather and learn.” Why is this important? “When we can express ourselves through a vision, we evolve and become the best versions of ourselves,” he said.

I invite all to come see Scieszka’s work, take an art class, shop the exhibit and enjoy a wonderful evening of live Improv in the theater. See you at the DAC!

  • A Night of Improv, with Cindy Laudadio-Hill and Mary Quinn: Hilarity will ensue! 7:30 p.m. Friday (Feb. 24).
  • Silent Sunday with Swanson: Vintage silent films accompanied by Adam Swanson on piano. 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $10/$15. All ages welcome.
  • “Reefer Madness, The Musical”: 7:30 p.m. March 17-18, 24-25 and 31-April 1. 5 p.m. March 19, 26 and April 2. A story about clean-cut kids who fall prey to marijuana, leading them on a hysterical downward spiral filled with evil jazz music, sex and violence.

Doors for all shows open half an hour before listed showtime.

Art classes and gallery events
  • “Whimsical Wonderland”: a community art exhibit featuring more than 40 local artists. Free.
  • Shop the Artisan’s Market: open noon-6 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday.
  • Mud Day Madness, begins March 27: 6:30-8:30 p.m. $325.
  • Figure Drawing with live model, begins March 28: 6-8 p.m. Ten classes, $225.
  • Art of Painting, begins Mach 29: 10 a.m.-noon, $250.
  • Magical Art & Happiness adult art classes begins April 6: 6-8 p.m. Six weeks, $200.
  • Pots & Pints: Every Friday, 4:30-6 p.m., $30.
  • GOAL/BART: youth leadership intensives begin June 5/12, respectively. $275.

Questions? Email info@durangoarts.org

Donate, become a member for discounts and to be a patron of the arts, register for classes, buy tickets, and keep in touch at DurangoArts.org and find things fast at https://linktr.ee/durangoartscenter.

Brenda Macon has been executive director of Durango Arts Center since 2018.