Dionne’s love of traveling and motorcycles started early: at eight, she hopped on her brother’s bike and rode as a pillion wherever he would take her. From that moment on, she put all her pennies into a jar and three weeks before she turned eighteen (the legal driving age in Switzerland), she bought her first motorcycle and never looked back.
A year as a high school exchange student in Kansas introduced her to the delights of culture shock and the feeling of being disoriented. “I credit this experience as the origin of my undying fascination with traveling and finding comfort in situations that are not always so comfortable.” With hindsight, it makes sense that a few years later, at a time when all her friends went on to college, she left Switzerland and traveled West for eighteen months hitchhiking and using local transportation (with a few planes in-between!) until she had gone around and found herself back in her parents’ yard. “It was an extraordinary experience that only left me hungry for more.”
In 2003 Dionne set out to find a new home for her business, the Sev Shoon Arts Center. Her real estate friend showed her a building that was six times larger than she was looking for. With a little imagination and an enormous amount of enthusiasm, she convinced architect/artist Jay Lazerwitz, and artists Joan Stuart Ross and John Gleason to partner up and purchase, gut and develop it into what is now known as BallardWorks. Today BallardWorks is home to 30 artists with private studios, and one art-focused business – Art & Soul, a photography business specializing in digital capture of art work and high quality giclée prints for artists & photographers. “Much more than a business, BallardWorks is my baby. I wake up every morning excited to go to the studio and mingle with the artists who are there.” As a community, BallardWorks participates in the monthly 3rd Friday Ballard ARTwalk from 6 to 9PM.
As a teenager, Dionne read books about Impressionists and Dadaists, and felt a surge of envy towards all these artists who were portrayed as somewhat congenial groups who congregated on a regular basis to discuss the state of the art and the world. Infused with this vision of the past and armed with a passion for community building and printmaking, Dionne started the Sev Shoon Arts Center in 1991. Until its closure in 2012, Sev Shoon provided artists a professional printmaking center with classes, 24/7 studio access, gallery space and a supportive meeting space that saw the birth of many lifelong friendships. In 2007 Dionne added an international residency program thus extending opportunities for Asian, European, Mexican, and African artists to come to Seattle and work.
Community doesn’t start and stop in Seattle. The wider the better! In 2009, Dionne was invited by artist C. Krydz Ikwuemesi, Professor at the Art Department of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, to come teach printmaking to his students. By the time she arrived, the door to the print studio had not been open in seven years. “Krydz had organized a welcome party for me. It was crowded before I even arrived and it became jam-packed by the time the event was over. The room was jubilant with anticipation. I had been told I would have 40 students but all the other art faculty professors, accompanied by their own students, joined in! People worked on the floor, on the press, against the wall, wherever they could squeeze in. Late one night I came back to the classroom to pick up my bag and I found five students working under the light of a cellphone. I had never seen such dedication and enthusiasm.”
To read more about Dionne’s Nigeria experience, click here: Nigeria Final Report
Dionne considers herself extremely fortunate to have been invited to China several times since 2005. “My first visit was for an art opening. I thought to myself ‘I refuse to be in a show in China and not be present at the opening,’ so we got organized and a little Seattle delegation traveled to ShenZhen. A year later (on a Saturday!) some of us received an invitation email that said ‘We are inaugurating the GuanLan Print Base, a very important printmaking center. Please come participate: plan to arrive Thursday.’ I didn’t quite make it: I got there on Saturday!”
In 2015, during her second teaching and exhibiting assignment in China, she was awarded an academic appointment as a Visiting Professor at the Normal University of Changsha. “I love going to China. I grew up thinking that Chinese people were aloof, even unfriendly, so I was shocked to discover that as a whole, they are incredibly sweet and funny. So much so that after my 2005 return home, I started on a five years jaunt studying Mandarin.” Working in China has been a phenomenal experience that comes with its fair share of challenges and frustration… as well as with huge banquets of flowing alcohol, delectable foods and magnificent friends!”