Building a Community with the Dufala Brothers

Steven Dufala (Cert. ‘00) and Billy Blaise Dufala (Cert. ‘03) are prolific multidisciplinary artists whose work defies categorization extending from sculpture and drawing to theater, music and performance art. They co-teach a course in Found Objects in the BFA program.

In conversation with artist Sharon Louden, the brothers discussed the importance of community, their time at PAFA, and how they make a living as artists.

Below is an excerpt of the Dufala brother’s conversation, edited for flow and clarity.


Building a community amongst their peers

“We’re two of five boys and our mom ran a daycare center so our circle of friends, even growing up, there were five of us and then like 30 other kids so we were always part of a big group of people,” Steven Dufala said. “Everything that happened was never just you, there was always someone else. We didn’t have a lot growing up so the resources of sharing and getting other people to help you do things started from go.”

As the brothers grew up, the importance of a community carried on.

“Dealing with the type of work we made just cannot happen by yourself,” said Steven.

Billy echoed that sentiment, “It’s incredibly expensive to run a shop. You’re not going to set up a shop by yourself unless you’ve got a bunch of money so you need shared resources.”

Creating work together

It’s all about making each other laugh.

“We’re always texting each other weird things all the time,” Steven said. “And it’s really to crack the other person up.”

Out of that laughter comes work like typewriter blackberry and extra long chuck.

“It happens in a lot of ways. It’s never the same way really twice. It used to be sitting down at a table with a bunch of ideas in sketchbook and throwing stuff at each other and once we boil things down, one person will run to the computer and start drafting and I might run to the studio and start sketching things out. And then come back with pictures and other ideas and boil them down again,” Billy said. “That doesn’t happen as much now. We come in and work very close and then we go apart and then we come in and work close and then we go apart. It changes as we get older, so it’s a new phase now.”

Building an income as an artist

The pair keeps busy schedules: teaching at PAFA, working in theatre and running RAIR, an artist residency.

“It’s income by a thousand sources so that’s a puzzle,” Steven said. “It’s a big economic collage, it’s cobbling it together.”

Steven recently returned to Philadelphia after designing theatre sets.

“Part of what’s really exciting about being home and getting off the road is that the shows are still running,” he said. “Every city a show does I get money and I don’t have to travel anymore so now it’s back to the studio and next steps.”

Closer to home, Billy is the co-founder of RAIR, a recycled artist in residency program north of Philadelphia. The residency has been running since 2010 but has only recently become financially viable enough for Billy to draw a salary for his work.

“We have to work our buns off to do the nonprofit hustle and we’re getting better at writing grants,” Billy said. “We’re still pretty lean, it’s working. We learned it through experience by asking a lot of people in the nonprofit world and being really open and transparent with everyone that we know and asking anybody we know who might have advice.”

Attending PAFA

Steven came to PAFA after studying film animation.

“I knew it was a storied institution, long history, super traditional training and coming from film animation and photo I knew I was looking for a specific kind of skillset,” Steven said. “My main interest was drawing, it still is, so that’s what I was chasing.”

Billy followed his older brother to PAFA, where he found a new community in the sculpture department.

“The individual studio practice is really intense, you’re making things for yourself and then you have this check in with other people and really having fun focusing on the work,” he said. “What I learned about myself in that time I still kind of use some of that in terms of just feeling comfortable to pursue me.”

What sustains them and their work

“You gotta be having fun. You don’t have to be having fun all the time, but at the end of the day you really gotta have fun,” Steven said. “If you find yourself doing nothing but complaining about all of the experience you’re having then you’re in the wrong place.”

“Being able to work with awesome people and being able to make things possible that you never thought would be possible and sharing that with people, and then saying, ‘OMG, I can’t believe we actually pulled that off, that’s amazing and people liked it’.”

The Dufala brothers visit was part of PAFA’s Career Services weekly workshop program.