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Meet Lisa Degliantoni

Lisa is a community arts advocate and passionate Community Arts Builder in Evanston. Initiatives and work include; Director of One River School of Art + Design Evanston, Curator and Founder of 1100 Florence Gallery, Founder of Evanston Made and Host of The Lisa D Show Podcast.


What do you know for sure? Talking to one another, sharing stories and personal truths, is the solution to end all conflict and solve all problems. It’s sounds so trite but getting to know your neighbor, block by block is how we survive and excel at community building and quality of life.

What inspires you? I LOVE seeing the results of human effort for change. Anytime the results of a large group of people coming together to make a thing happen goes live, I just want to burst.

What scares you? Not being able to get the things done that I need to get done, so time wasting scares me and it’s a real thing! Also mean-looking dogs that bark at me through the fence when I walk down alleys, I love alleys and I am afraid of mean dogs. And huge houses or being locked in a Catholic church overnight, really any dark, cavernous, large space that I cannot see the occupants of. I love tiny and public living quarters, which is why I live inside of an art gallery.

What is your best memory? 11 years old, 5th grade, I was at Marine World Africa USA Theme Park and raised my hand to be the volunteer who got kissed by the killer whale and I remember locking eyes with the trainer who was picking ONE human from a sea of us and telepathically telling her “You Will Pick Me”, and she did. For the next year, I was convinced I could command people do things telepathically if they locked eyes with me.

Whose undies would you run up a flagpole? Most likely my own for a gag or Lil Hogan’s, she would just die!

What is your favorite place to travel to? Moss Beach, CA, a tiny beach 19 miles South of San Francisco on Highway 1, nestled in a tiny coastal neighborhood. No one is ever there, okay maybe one or two other humans, and there is a sea lion preserve where you can get really close to the seals. And the low tide is amazing, with tide pools 25 yards out. Sometimes the sea lions will pop up out of the surf and watch you walk along the beach, they actually make eye contact with you and sometimes I telepathically command them to do things, but they never obey me. Lazy sea lions.

What don't people know about you? Probably very little, as I live life out loud! But if I had to dig, most people don’t know that I suffer from CRD (celebrity recognition disorder), where I don’t know (and honestly sometimes don’t care) who a famous person is and will treat them like a normal person if I run into them in public. Like one time I was in line for a copier at Cosmo Magazine and a very old tiny lady was failing at making copies, and my audible sighs of annoyance alerted her to my presence and of course at that point she asked for help, which I did, I helped her like a normal person would. When I got back to my desk I complained to my officemate about the old lady who was faking she couldn’t work the copy machine just to get me to help her. Turns out it was Helen Gurley Brown. I could go on and on with examples of how CRD has affected my life.

What do you think about when you are alone? What I’m going to eat next, a fun vacation I went on or am planning and parties I am going to host. But when I dig a little deeper, I think about how to get humans to engage with one another and share their stories in meaningful ways; as I’ve aged, I’ve narrowed it down to just how to get creatives to engage with other humans. How to build connections between creatives in Evanston and the community at large. I’m obsessed with the human engagement puzzle and I go down rabbit holes researching how other people do it. And then I wonder why isn’t everyone is obsessed with this? Then I move on to food, travel and parties. It’s a pretty vicious cycle.

What makes you laugh? A perfectly timed punchline by a colorful storyteller, I’m an easy audience with the right pacing. A long drawn out punchline with details that aren’t essential to the story and I gloss over. Also any recounting of a physical calamity, like a wipeout or a massive coffee spill and I’m howling. I LOVED Three’s Company as a kid for Jack Tripper’s physical humor.

What do you believe? I believe that we have 11 minutes on this planet and then we’re gone and since we’re the only creatures who can communicate deeply with one another (build narratives to join our past and future) that we are obligated to participate in human interaction and talk to one another. And if we all slowed down and deeply engaged with one another we’d get so much done in terms of uplifting our quality of life and celebrating this amazing gift to even be here. AND that we’re all stars as we’re built of recycled atoms from the universe so today I’m “Lisa D” but soon I’ll be a “star”.

What expression or saying do you love? (or which one do you hate?) Lisa Does What Lisa Wants

Have you ever stolen anything? Why would you ask that, did you hear something on the street about me being a thief? Only hearts and miscellany from frat houses and food, oh and there was a short phase where I stole creamers from restaurants during my college years.

Who do you admire? Laser-focused and productive creatives. I especially admire artists who can manage projects from conception to sharing, that’s an incredibly difficult cycle to master and I look to artists like Ellen Greene the painter, and am amazed at how she can be so prolific and yet so smart and strategic in sharing her work. There are many more to list.

What do you hate? Racism and Sexism. Thank you YWCA for working on eradicating both those things.

What is your favorite song? Purple Rain by Prince. “I never wanted to be your weekend lover.” Are you kidding?

If we came over for dinner what would you prepare for us? Single ingredient items and lots of them; salmon, sausage, asparagus, broccoli, baked kale, no knead bread, cheese galore. Dessert might include fruit dipped in chocolate fondue, brownies and ice cream or homemade Mexican chocolate popsicles.

Who is your favorite character? (tv, literary, whatever) Moira Rose on Schitt’s Creek and Jane Eyre.

If you had to change careers what would you want to do? I would love to be the publisher of a very successful weekly newspaper. Then I could spend my days talking and thinking about the content that matters! And I would hire all my creative friends who are amazing writers, designers, photographers, editors, etc.

What do you suck at? Math, numbers, statistical analytics. Like I can’t grasp downs in football because I cannot fathom a field that needs to be continually divided, if that’s what’s happening?

What is your hidden talent? Getting people to tell me their deepest secrets, I am the perfect combination of nosey/forgiving/self-mocking when it comes to sharing secrets. I also am mostly thinking about what I’m going to eat next when people are telling me their super deep secrets, which means I’m going to forget.

If you could fire anyone in the world, who would you fire? What’s his name in the White House.

What do you geek out about? Baby bunnies.

Favorite word? Cantankerous

Who helped get you here? I often say that reading Jane Eyre and the same sex education I got at Notre Dame Belmont High School (go Sailors) are directly responsible for the creating the woman I am today. But really I owe most of deep personal development to Benita Campbell Mann, my boss at San Diego State University. Benita was my boss for a few years when I was on the house cleaning crew in college, cleaning the common areas of dorms. That job and Benita were instrumental in me becoming who I am today. I was at an incredibly impressionable age (cleaning the living quarters of my peers, which for some could be demoralizing) and Benita helped me learn how to truly love and accept myself for who I was. In the short moments we had at the top and bottom of shifts, Benita would either share wisdom and her life experiences or listen to my tales and offer sharp, honest feedback, always helping me see through the layers of my self-judgement BS and get straight to the point. She’s one of those friends/mentors who I can still hear talking to me so many years later, and if I saw her today (20+ years have passed) we could pick right back up and be so close again. I don’t imagine I’m the easiest person to teach, but she was the perfect teacher and I am one confident woman because of her!

What is the world missing? More creatives like Mr. Rogers who purely do their work to connect with others. We have way too many humans who want to be famous or rich, and not enough humans who want to use Art to Connect with others.

How long do you think you would you survive the zombie apocalypse? Why? I would survive the zombie apocalypse for exactly 14 minutes; I am terrible in an emergency and cannot handle pain, hunger or exhaustion, unless of course I’m in a competitive sports environment, so maybe if the zombies were in the other boat, and we could race as part of the apocalypse I would survive.

What gets you through a rough day? Dinner! My family loves to eat a home-cooked meal around the table. It’s super old school and is how I was raised, but the main driver is not so much tradition as deep hunger and a discerning palette. Everyone in our house cooks with passion and excitement, and going to the grocery store daily is a treat, not a burden. Going to the grocery store makes me feel RICH, there is nothing I cannot buy! And I feel so blessed to have access to the produce section of Valli, and that I have a family who loves food and eating together as much as I do.

What’s your craziest idea? That we can build an Artspace in Evanston - El Paso and Elgin did it, why can’t we? We have more creatives living and working in a city of this size than anywhere in North America (ArtStart Study 2011, Northwestern University) so let’s celebrate and elevate those creatives with big gathering spaces full of commercial opportunity, affordable housing and studio spaces. The model is fantastic and I think Evanston would LOVE to bring in Artspace to “use the tools of real estate development to construct or restore places where artists can affordably live and work. Paul Zalmazek are you listening?

What new thing have you learned lately? Thanks to my good friend Mike Meiners who launched Hackstudio a few years ago, I learned the value of the Do Crew; a group of humans who hold you accountable for attaining your dreams. The only twist I would add to Mike’s “Do Crew” concept is that the humans need to all be working on the same project, because it takes lots of humans to do things, that great things are done by groups or even duos, never by solitary effort. I’m taking this concept to market this year for Evanston Made’s relaunch, moving it from one person’s passion to a group of people who want to work on the initiative together! Part of me is scared to work with so many others on a project I started, but Evanston Made has grown into a massive thing and won’t continue if I do the work alone. It’s grown to need a team, and that’s a good thing, as great things will get done! Learn more about this idea at evanstonmade.org

What’s the best advice you have ever given? Talking Shit? Quiet.

What’s the smartest thing you have ever said? Yes.

Where do you go for inspiration? Stories from creatives about their process! It’s the secret/selfish reason I host “The Lisa D Show” podcast, for my very own personal inspiration. Actively listening to someone describe how they took a project from concept to completion makes me feel so happy and secure about the future of our planet. Unfortunately, in this American culture we are surrounded by f*&k boys who live for money (what’s his name in the White House is one) and it’s incredibly refreshing to talk to someone about how they stretch a canvas or make a new of body of work because they value using art to connect with the planet.

Tell us about your creative process? Most of my creative process surrounds unearthing and meeting Evanston creatives to collaborate with in my various artsy initiatives. To find new guests for my podcast, I scroll through Instagram for inspiration using #evanstonmade (a hashtag that I use for most visual arts research in Evanston). Additionally, I talk with anyone creative, asking if they have an interesting neighbor making art. Really, it’s about researching the new and emerging artists who I don’t know in Evanston. It’s a city of 75,000, so I’m bound to find at least 10,000 of them to work with.

Pet peeves? The nickname Lis, humans who cannot multitask, being late (more or the other person) as I am obsessed with time.

Tell us about a time you surprised yourself. My family moved to Evanston, IL, in 2011, with no jobs and one friend. We knew we needed to start a new life in a new city, and did it in the most unconventional and dangerous way. Seven years in, I cannot believe we have built the life we have; so many wonderful friends, amazing schools and teachers, awesome jobs that are interesting, a beach playground that we totally appreciate and love and a house built inside of an old Polish Meat Shop. I had no idea my life would be this amazing at 46. I am so very surprised that we pulled off this new phase of our lives, I am so proud of all of us, I am so proud of me.

What made you cry this year? I typically don’t cry, it’s a flaw I know, but the recent Mr. Rogers documentary had me sobbing - out loud in a movie theater! His message to children “you’re okay as you are, you are loved, you are good enough, you are special, you do you” had me in tears! Imagine if all the dinkies (humans age 0-12) could be told this? Sobbing. In. Public.

What are you most grateful for? My taste in people. I have incredible discerning taste in who I love and spend time with. And my ability to keep long term friendships alive with those friends is also something I am super grateful for. Being surrounded by amazing humans who fill your cup and lift you up is better than sunshine! I am totally into sunshine!

How do you take care of yourself? My friendships with girlfriends are my self-care. I manage to hold strong boundaries on spending time with my girlfriends, not like Michelle Obama’s boot camp, but like No Bra Nights, where a friend hosts cheese eating, wine and chilling together.

Tell us about an epic "first". My first really big solo road trip of 17 hours through the deep American West was epic to say the least. Background: I had a very early midlife career crisis after I landed my dream job, Managing Editor of three magazines at a boutique publishing company in NYC! I got the job, did it for a few years, and realized my “dream job” and career were no longer what I wanted. So my good friend Ginny got me an out, a job as a white water river rafting guide in Durango, Colorado. Nevermind it would be my first time river rafting, let alone guiding the raft, but I first had to get to Durango, CO, in my Volkswagen Fox, alone over two days, driving from San Francisco, CA, a large portion of which was through the Navajo Indian Reservation. Driving for two eight hours stretches through barren Arizona desert (passing maybe one car every 45 minutes) made me understand the vastness and hugeness of the American West, but also what it meant to travel alone. I had never done that and although I spent plenty of time white knuckling it, I was so proud of myself to take that journey at 22, alone, as a woman, freaking out and running away from the big city to become a whitewater rafting guide for the summer. Maybe there are a few “epic” firsts in this answer.

What is the greatest purchase you have ever made? A Polish Meat Shop in West Evanston! My husband and I had been looking for an affordable home in Evanston for years, and my friend Steph found a brick building for sale that used to be a Polish Meat Shop. So we bought it and my husband spent a year and a half turning it into a live/work space, building out three bedrooms, a common kitchen area and bathroom. We didn’t have to do much work to the storefront, roughly 700 sq of distressed walnut floors and 10.5’ ceilings, big bright windows. Living inside of a 2,000 sq ft brick building designed for commercial use is strange because our living room is sometimes an art gallery and public gathering space. My husband has an art studio in the basement and I activate my community art building endeavors in the gallery storefront. We lived inside the house as the construction was happening, providing me and my kids front row seats to watching my husband make something out of nothing. The second greatest purchase was the four chickens we bought and put in the yard for $2.50 each.

What do you wish you had more time for? Cultivating a list of buyers interested in support emerging Evanston visual artists.

When do you feel most at peace? Bedtime. When I reproduced and learned about sleep training babies I had a major aha moment - I would have a bedtime just like babies do and then my life will be awesome! So, I go to bed at 11 p.m. every single night, sometimes a little earlier and other times a little later, but I LOVE bedtime! To help fall asleep, I go through my day, event by event, which always puts me right to sleep! Ha!

What do you do when you feel stuck? Walk to the beach and stare at the horizon.

What do you hope will be different by this time next year? In the things I don’t control category: I hope more people know they matter and that they are loved. In the things I control category: I hope I’ve figured out how to motivate many more Evanston community members to share my passion to build an Arts(y) Community in Evanston!

Want more? Visit lisadegliantoni.com and follow her on twitter @thelisadshow and @evanstonmade

Photo Credit: Jamie Kelter Davis Photography taken at One River School of Art + Design in Evanston