Yoko Ono once said, “Art is my life, and my life is art.” The same could be said for Debbie Venezia.
Debbie is passionate about raising visibility of the arts for DuPage County residents. Since 2017, she has been the director of Arts DuPage, an initiative of the DuPage Foundation. In partnership with the Arts DuPage Advisory Committee, she enthusiastically leads the effort to support, promote, and advocate for the arts in our community by providing a comprehensive listing of all things arts in the area, building connections within the arts and culture sector, stimulating community engagement, and providing capacity-building workshops to artists and arts leaders. “There was not an awareness of the breadth of activities that were available,” Debbie said. “So we’re now a resource for people in the community.”
Debbie’s art career began in 2002, when her corporate job downsized, and she found herself job hunting. Convinced this was an opportunity to pursue her passion for art, she applied and was hired as the Naperville Art League’s executive director. The organization saw a tremendous growth spurt, coinciding with her arrival. During her 15-year tenure heading the Naperville Art League, Debbie helped increase the organization’s revenues; secured valuable grants funding and sponsorships; facilitated educational workshops, classes, and exhibits; and coordinated all aspects of the Naperville Riverwalk Fine Art Fair, a role she still holds today.
This past September marked the event’s 37th year where the downtown streets of Naperville transform into an art marketplace showcasing the nation’s best artists. “We exhibited in 14 different media categories,” Debbie said. “We had a little bit of everything — I love doing it, and I’m still not ready to give it up because of what it does for the community.”
Main & Luxe sat down with Debbie for some Q & A.
Q – Be honest. Do art lovers need to go elsewhere to experience great art?
DV – No! Pre-pandemic, the mindset was, in order to get a quality art experience, you need to go down to Chicago. And that’s just not true. And I think the biggest example that I can cite is if we look at what happened last summer (in 2021), the McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage brought in the Frida Kahlo ‘Timeless Exhibit. It was amazing. It was 26 pieces of original art by Frida Kahlo that were displayed for three months last summer. During that three-month period, over 100,000 people from 50 states and 43 countries came to Glen Ellyn.
Q – Who is your favorite artist?
DV – I don’t know that I could narrow it down to just one artist! My list includes several who have educated and challenged me, influenced my perspective, and seduced me with the beauty of their work. I remember inhaling the scent of oil paints at the Van Gogh exhibit and being moved to tears before Michelangelo’s La Pieta in Vatican City. Edward Hopper, Claude Monet, Andy Warhol, and Maxfield Parrish all have a place in my heart!
Q – Favorite local art event?
DV – I will have to say Naperville Art League’s Riverwalk Fine Art Fair, an event I’ve been intimately close to for the last 20 years. As the director, I look forward to running this top-rated show as it attracts some of the best artists in the country to DuPage County. Tens of thousands of art fair goers eagerly attend the show and turn the event into a celebration of the arts.
Q – Favorite art medium?
DV – Pastel! And for those unfamiliar with it, don’t let the name deceive you. The pastel palette has an infinite range of colors, from pale to vibrant, and finished works can be very subtle or intensely rich and luminescent. Versatile and forgiving, pastels allow artists to create work spontaneously and make it easier for art appreciators to find those pieces that will suit their tastes.
Q – What is the best thing about the local arts scene?
DV – The abundance of high-quality arts experiences within the borders of DuPage County. The region has world-class cornerstone venues like Drury Lane, Paramount Theatre, and the McAninch Arts Center juxtaposed with smaller locations like Village Theatre Guild and Wheaton Drama. Elmhurst Art Museum is a haven for art and design and is also an international destination for architecture as it is home to the Mies van der Rohe house. Next year, we can look forward to Andy Warhol Portfolios: A Life in Pop at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art (CCMA). Additionally, Salt Creek Ballet, Two Way Street Coffee House, Westside Improv, and Elmhurst History Museum all bring unique gifts to the area. In the post-COVID environment, many are choosing to stay closer to home for their arts experiences, and it’s okay — everything you need is right here.
Author: Dawn Klavon, Dawn Klavon works as a freelance writer, traveling the globe with her husband and writing from any coffee shop, hotel lobby, or boulangerie where she feels inspired. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University and a master’s degree in journalism from Harvard University, she is uniquely qualified to craft feature stories on compelling people, trendy foods, and fascinating lifestyles. Dawn authored a book during her first year in grad school, along with her professor and classmates, called “Journalism Today — Profiles in Passion and Diversity.”