When Caroline Duvoe became a victim of the economic downturn in 2009, losing her corporate position at IBM, she embarked on a path that led to a new direction more rewarding than she could have imagined. An abstract artist for over 20 years, exhibiting in art shows and galleries – including the Enroy Gallery and her own studio, Studio Duvoe, in Gulfport – she decided to go back to school to seek a degree in human development at Eckerd College. While at Eckerd, she completed a nine-month internship at PARC, teaching abstract painting to adult clients.
“After working at PARC, I knew I had found my niche,” says Duvoe. “That experience led me to seek a position teaching abstract art to neuro-diverse kids. I found the perfect fit at LIFT Academy.”
She began working three years ago at the non-profit day school for special needs children. Founded in 2012 by five mothers with neuro-diverse children and backgrounds in education, LIFT Academy seeks to create a challenging learning system specific to special needs children.
Part of the arts curriculum is student participation in local art shows and galleries, such as the LIFT Art Show held at the City of Imagination in Gulfport on February 4, where students ages 6 to 21 exhibited their work.
Michael Garcia, 16, painted when he was younger and decided to try an afterschool program called Art Club taught by Duvoe.
“I was glad to get back to my art when I started LIFT Academy,” says Garcia. “I could never have imagined I could do this stuff and develop my talent.”
David Zilich, who has been a student at LIFT since 2013, and gave a drawing demonstration at the show, says his favorite medium is pencil.
“I draw many things, like cartoons and landscapes,” says Zilich. “Cartoon people are my favorite things to draw. I want to have my own cartoon on TV someday.”
When a student sells a painting, they receive half of the funds with the other half going to the school’s art supply fund.
“Involving the students in the process helps to enhance ownership while increasing their self-esteem,” says Duvoe. “It makes them feel good that they have accomplished something.”
As is typical of Gulfport, the community has been involved in a big way. Attendees at the LIFT Academy Art Show enjoyed food donated by O’Maddy’s and entertainment by local musicians Frank VanNostrand and Keith Pluess. Domain Home Accessories & Gallery has donated gift certificates at other LIFT Academy events in Gulfport, and Mangia Gourmet has hosted a student art show. LIFT Academy student art work can also be seen around town at the Gulfport Public Library and at the Enroy Gallery.
“I am so thankful for the support of Ciara Carinci for providing the amazing venue and for other Gulfport businesses and individuals who continue to support LIFT Academy students,” says Duvoe.
Duvoe says feeling that she’s helping to make a difference is the most rewarding aspect of what she does.
“But I am just a facilitator of their magic,” she says. “I give them some paint, a few tools and movements and encouragement. Then they do the magic. I learn more from them every day than I could teach them in a lifetime.”
More information about upcoming events can be found at Studio Duvoe on Facebook.