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Gianna Dispenza '08
Posted 06/20/2016 11:44AM

When you think about your time at TASIS, what immediately comes to mind?

I think I came to TASIS relatively naïve. I’d grown up in unusually isolated places. When I was in more populated places, I was living in odd micro-cultures—small town bubble-like communities—and after a while of that I just assumed the whole world must have existed that way. So naturally, when I got to TASIS, with some 40+ nationalities, and each one with its own set of traditions, language, etc., a big light went on. It was humbling, I think.

What was your favorite spot on campus? And who were your favorite teachers?

Ca’Gioia, the art studio. That was where all the artists would spend our evenings, painting, sketching, and experimenting. That is where I picked up oil paints and made my first serious painting. It was 26 hands against a blue sky. Lawrence Koppe, my teacher at the time, matched or surpassed us ambitious kids with his fervor for the arts. I loved the dynamic between Mr. Koppe with his wonderfully surfeit reflections and Martyn Dukes, cool and sincere and engaged with all of us. There was so much creativity happening. Those two, along with Kay Hamblin, who was heading up the drama department (and cast me in plays without considering whether I was interested) made my time at TASIS exceptionally rich. I also managed to become very close with teachers whose classes I never took, specifically Kim Nelson. She spearheaded an (literally) underground club called Sasquatch, where a bunch of us would come together and discuss the arts or brainstorm and plan various projects. Kim Nelson has since become one of the most important people in my life.

Describe your life today.

I am living in Beirut, Lebanon with my high school sweetheart (from TASIS) and have been working with refugees in a number of capacities. Currently, I’d say my energies are equally divided between my work as an artist (both exhibitions and private commissions) and my work with an NGO, ULYP.

I think my time at TASIS got me interested in seeing and engaging with places I knew little about. Like Lebanon, for example. I certainly wouldn’t be living where I am and doing the work I am doing if it wasn’t for my experiences at TASIS. That work includes my art—I felt more supported by that school than anywhere else. There was such care and attention, and Mr. Dukes and Mr. Koppe granted me a scholarship to a summer study at SVA in New York where quite a few of my friends from school all met up and took courses in the arts for a few months. Things like that helped me secure my path into the arts and I recall those days as some of the best.

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