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The Work That Drives Safi

Off The Cuff learns what it takes

Jan. 17, 2017
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It’s late December in 1977 and 18-year-old Tom Kovacich has arrived for his first day of work in the brand-new building housing Miller Brewing Company. He’s been hired to distribute mail throughout the complex. Kovacich still works there, but now he’s a records and information management specialist observing the company go from Miller to MillerCoors to Molson Coors, and he did it while taking courses at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Madison attorney Dianne Soffa works in the children’s court and wears two hats: one devoted to art and one to the children. Early on, her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Texas in Austin led to another goal: law school in Madison. To add to the workload, she earned her master of fine arts while putting the final touches on a law degree. 

How do these two manage full-time jobs while running a tiny 225-square-foot studio space in the basement of the Marshall Building? Safi Studios, which this industrious pair opened in 2010, has no fairy godmother toting bags of gold. To Kovacich and Soffa, hard work plus creativity is reward enough. They seem to agree that having a full-time job is essential as a backup to running a gallery.

Soffa: Law is a great day job! And art is everything else. Recently I combined the two disciplines by creating an installation using pink-slip messages from my office. I deleted critical information with a black marker and used the doodle patterns that emerged. They became art installed on the walls of Safi and also Madison Art Hub gallery. 

Kovacich: We are only open during Gallery Night and by appointment. I have a modest house in West Allis and I use the space to make art. This past summer, our combined efforts in Madison led to an exterior installation at Madison’s Olbrich Botanical Gardens. We mounted 200 rearview automobile mirrors on stakes and worked with a lighting designer to bring “GLEAM: Art in a New Light” to the gardens. A year earlier, we used rearview mirrors and luminous colors to enliven the stage for Madison’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. Currently we are preparing a proposal for the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend.

Soffa: I have exhibited my art in Mexico and Texas, and Safi is a great place for experimentation. It makes for a fine test drive before I take my things on the road. Speaking of being “on the road,” my drive from Madison to Milwaukee takes about 90 minutes.

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