by Tom Sims
A conversation with Mark and Wendy DeRaud is going to cross multiple disciplines with some unifying themes. They are thinking artists and artistic thinkers. They are educators. They are community builders.
They understand the human condition and the possibility for healing through art, community, relationships, and conversation. They are philosophers, theologians, and friends of many who know how to gather people around the arts, and they are dedicated to providing consecrated space for that purpose.
Some years ago, they bought The Revue in the Tower District. They changed the name to Mia Cuppa Cafe. During their tenure, they served good coffee and food and provided an artistic venue for the community. Recently, they passed on the coffee business to some younger friends who brought back the old name and made some changes.
Mark and Wendy, however, retained the back portion of the building and are developing a unique and more focused studio and venue. The name is Mia Studio & Gallery. It will be the home of DeRaud Art School and Studio and of Art ‘n Soul Fresno, a non-profit arm of their work.
Their website tells most of the story in term of nuts, bolts, and programs. The real story, however, is in the conversations.
On a hot day in August, the DeRauds wandered into the new coffee shop where they had invested so much time and love. It was with mixed emotions, as parents letting go of adult children, that they admired the renovations and entertained nostalgia for the old days.
The conversation was repeatedly and joyously interrupted by old friends coming by and familiar faces seen across the room. It was clear that this couple had built a community in the place where they were no longer the stewards and that the community was continuing, evolving, and growing.
As much as they will miss serving up the coffee, their role in this stage of their lives is to play to their greatest strengths and follow their most profound calling: to gather people around the arts, place brushes in their hands, allow them a place to gather and express themselves, and build the healing relationships that will allow people to thrive.
Art is therapeutic. That is not a new observation. However, the evidence and implications are proliferating. It is so much truer than we ever imagined. Visual art can stimulate literary art and musical expression, and music and literature can stimulate visual expression as well. All arts can stimulate the intellect and create a context for emotional health and wellness.
Mark and Wendy are committed to these concepts and to the practice of encouraging, teaching, practicing, demonstrating, and creating art. Both are artists themselves, and both are teachers.
Wendy taught elementary school before marriage and continues to teach the many who come across her path. Her participation in social media reveals her passion for challenging people’s thinking and contributing to a pool of fresh ideas. Mark has taught and lectured at local universities and religious communities through the years. Their creative juices are flowing into a stream of consciousness and activity that is hard to follow at the pace they are moving.
These will provide context and opportunity for more than just fun, but for release of tension, team-building, communication, self-awareness, and building friendships.
Mark is especially attuned to the literature on emerging therapies and neurological research related to art and the pathways it creates leading toward greater health and productivity.
As a writer, I was inspired by the suggestion that my own ability to formulate words and sentences could be enhanced by simply drawing before and during my writing.
Brains are changing. The young think differently than those raised without the images, symbols, and visual shortcuts of the digital age. Even medicine is “getting it” and training young doctors in art as therapy. Results have been documented in cancer treatment as much as in mental health. Learning to be mindful opens doors that textbooks cannot approach.
Art expands people’s abilities to see new possibilities. Art is being incorporated in the recovery process for people overcoming addictions. These are among the observations and insights that inform the passion of the DeRauds to do what they are doing and to invest all of their time and resources into the effort.
How people learn is also how people relate to God and to each other.
There are even implications for communicating spiritual truth and telling the story of faith. As people of deep faith and Christian commitment, this is a profound motivator for the couple. At the same time, they resist being pushy, overbearing, self-righteous, or chauvinistic about their personal faith. People of any faith or no faith can feel comfortable in their presence and in the space they are creating.
On the second and fourth Tuesday of each month from 6:30-7:30 p.m., the venue hosts a Taize worship experience. It is a liturgical service with a great deal of contemplative prayer and singing that grew out of a community in France. Worshipers collaborate in this Evensong experience that allows participants to seek their own ground for meeting God as they experience God.
Learners collaborate. Artists collaborate. Everyone who wants to accomplish anything these days collaborates.
Wendy and Mark are catalysts for collaboration by providing places, space, curriculum, mentoring, and opportunity. The signature stage and mural at Mia Studio and Gallery remains. Poetry, music, and art will fill the rooms.
Arts-based events are limited only by the community’s collaborate imagination.
Some events will come under Art ‘n Soul and the rest under the business.
Affinity groups will form. Musical groups and others will be able to rent space or create events. Community-wide events such as Lit Hop and the Rogue Festival will find one of their homes with Mia Studio and Gallery.
It sounds like a big vision because it is a big vision. Yet, it is an attainable vision that is emerging and being realized at a rapid pace.
It should be a great party!