Yeah! Featured in LA Times!
Teenage artist fights adversity with creativity, inspires others to embrace diversity!
BY ANDREW TURNER
Photos: Don Leach
The night reached its end, but no one left the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center — not immediately, anyway.
Guests had just enjoyed a one-person, onstage production detailing the life of one very special girl in Clara Woods, 16, who has made a name for herself as an artist despite significant obstacles.
Clara suffered a prenatal stroke, which rendered her unable to read, write or speak. What began as an exercise to improve her fine motor skills has become her salvation — and others’ inspiration — as she has learned to express her innermost self through painting.
Dozens of her paintings are on exhibit at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center, the venue that hosted Clara’s family and supporters for a performance of “Painted Words.” Lavinia Constantino, an actress and art therapist, developed the show to give a voice to Clara and empower others who face their own unique challenges.
“My aim with Clara’s story is to help people reconnect to their own way of being different without thinking that being different is something wrong, but it is of value,” Constantino said. “It’s something that can really help us build more resilient and more diverse communities.”
Constantino first learned of Clara in 2018, when the young artist still lived with her parents in her native Italy. She sought out the family, feeling that Clara’s story was one that needed to be told. After meeting regularly with the artist’s family and friends, “Painted Words” was developed as a traveling show that could teach audiences about diversity, equality and inclusivity.
“Clara is the example that there’s also such a sunny side of life for a person with a disability that can still be developed and nourished,” Constantino said. "… For me, [the play is] not just about Clara’s life. That is the beginning, but the meaning, what I really hope that the audience can get is that we all feel different at some stage in our life. All of us, we have been the one who didn’t fit in, because we were not meant to fit in. We are meant to be different.”
An embrace was shared between the two artists at the end of the play, for which Clara’s younger brother Davi, 10, ran the introductions.
Those instances illustrate part of the support system around Clara, and it was an hour after the show before attendees began to make their way down the stairs and back onto the Promenade on Forest Avenue.
In that time, they interacted with Clara’s family and viewed her artwork. Dozens of acrylic paintings on canvas — many incorporating the use of glitter — were hanging from the walls.
Poised to enter her junior year of high school at Edison in Huntington Beach, Clara has already held 30 exhibitions on three continents. Those include appearances in Florence, Italy, where she was born in 2006; Art Basel in Miami, and in Japan. She has sold more than 700 paintings around the world.
“I think always that art came in our [lives], and I couldn’t imagine anymore without [it], because for Clara, and for us and the family, [it] gave hope that we can do something different and that Clara can be someone and do her thing,” Clara’s mother Betina Genovesi said. “It’s a kind of sacrifice because it’s a lot of work, but I think everything that you want to accomplish in life, it’s sacrifice. Our goal, in the end, is to be able also to help other kids with disabilities to do the same.
“We have so much kids and people with disabilities with talent, and they don’t have any support to be able to rise and shine. … Our goal is to create something that in the future we can help others to do the same.”
Those interested in seeing Clara’s latest exhibition, “Rainbow River,” can view it at Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center from Aug. 15 through Sept. 1. Clara’s family plans to attend between 4 and 7 p.m. daily.
“When we do events and people come, it’s really nice to see the reactions and how they feel,” Genovesi said. “We never imagined that what we are doing can touch so many lives.
“… [Clara] took her life and her difficult situation and transformed bad [into] good, and I think it’s the most important thing of everything we are doing — to be able to connect and to help people to see things with other eyes.”