Marina Sachs is, perhaps, the definition of dynamic…and wonderfully whacky. I first had the pleasure of meeting Marina when working on the Cheyenne River Reservation with Simply Smiles in 2015, as part of her Lakota Youth Speak project - a restorative justice and adolescent enrichment program - with friend and program co-creator Ellie Nan Storck. She is a MacGyver of creativity and creating, who harnesses her good nature, thoughtfulness, talent and sense of humor to bring joy and levity to kids on the Reservation and those around her in most every situation. I sure enjoy being around her! Check our her musings below - she’s a peach and a talented artist! (And, if you feel so inclined/moved by Marina, please check the Lakota Youth Speak Project and consider making a donation here.)
Meet The Maker
Name: Marina Sachs
Location: Cambridge, MA
Creative/crafty outlets: painting, drawing
Where to find you/your wares: www.softpushstudio.com; Instagram: @marina_sachs
When did you first realize that you like to create?
I grew up without a television, internet access, and a microwave. Around 2007, my parents got a television and wireless internet, but up until that point, there was no time or value placed on these things. I realize that this is a privilege; many parents cannot afford to make fresh food every day, and need to use a microwave to feed their families quick and easy meals. Other parents need their children to watch television so that they can be occupied while they make dinner, clean, or are working. I am very aware that living without these commodities was still a choice that my parents could make because they were in a position of privilege.
And yet, growing up without television or internet undoubtedly influenced the kind of thinker and maker I am today. My parents gave my sister and me art supplies, and the simple rule that boredom wasn’t an option, and playing outside always was. In our basement, we had chalk, paint, markers, paper, and recycled materials that my mama picked up from the supermarket (for a great styrofoam printing activity, click here). I was always allowed to use permanent markers, and was never scolded for getting paint on myself or making a mess as I created. I was never scolded for being a messy artist, and my parents gave me freedom to express myself in whatever medium was available. I am very grateful for their style, and something that has inspired me in the way I work with young artists.
To attempt to answer the question: I vividly remember creating a painted scene of a few trees in kindergarten on thick, pink paper, but I know that I was making art before that. I think I always loved to create, but the ways I have realized it have changed over the years. It wasn’t until high school, when I was attending an arts magnet high school in New Haven, CT, that I felt myself pulled towards performing and visual arts; drumming, mixed-media art, and theatre. My parents separated during my college years, and it was around this time that I realized I no longer just loved to create, I had to. I needed to sort out all of the shifting, clashing, dark parts in my head. My art became less inhibited, the impetus behind creating art had changed.
Who or what are some of your creative influences and/or where do you seek inspiration? And, has this changed over time?
I think that much of what I was exposed to as a child affected how I am as an artist and a creator today. There are some very specific, visual artists whose influence you can see in my art; the pen and ink-work of Quentin Blake, Alexander Calder’s circus drawings and sculptures, Jean Paul Basquiat’s journal entries, Beatrix Potter’s botanical paintings, to name a few.
About four years ago, I took issue with many of my creative influences, not because they aren’t talented or unique, but because my influences were mostly white males. How can I be an artist who fights for equity and access, how can I harness my privilege if all of my influences are white? I grappled with these questions, the most poignant being, “Who are my heros?” I think this is a really important question, because it demands a tracing of one’s history, a questioning of what one has learned, and more importantly, what they haven’t learned.
I’m always trying to figure out how to creatively show - and share - what I stand for.
Describe your process: Do you map things out? Just go for it? How do you get to the end product?
If I’m painting, it’s usually because I’ve got something stirring up my bones that I have to get out. I work on the floor. Barefoot. I spread out my materials, get a big glass of water, and throw on music. Delta blues, psych-rock, 90’s hip hop, ambient electronica... I move quickly, drawing first with sharpie, and then begin painting. I don’t like using pencil, I make more mistakes when I have an eraser.
If I’m designing a workshop, or working on a collaborative piece, then the first thing I do when I start is think about access. Who is represented in the collaboration? What voices aren’t being heard loud enough? If it’s a visual piece, is it accessible to everybody, affordable? Are the materials inexpensive, sustainable? What language is the project in? Whose histories are being told, or overlooked? Access is directly connected to diversity and equity; who has access to the project and who doesn’t? I’m much more thoughtful and planned when I’m working on a project. I constantly seek to collaborate with people whose viewpoints challenge, supplement, and intersect with my own. Access, tension, diversity, and equity are very important when we think about art, both local and global.
Talk more about your Tipi Talks/Lakota Youth Speak project, in terms of the role of creativity, identity and self-expression for Native youth. I saw, firsthand, how teenagers changed and opened up - namely, using art and creativity to harness their vulnerabilities, self-esteem, fears, and aspirations. It was and remains really incredible. How did this project evolve in terms of pre-trip planning to the Reservation and then actually living and working on the Reservation?
I have always believed that young people are capable of harnessing art to transform the lives of those around them; Lakota Youth Speak is another iteration of my commitment to this belief. In 2015, my close friend and project co-designer, Ellie Nan Storck and I received a Davis Project for Peace grant for Lakota Youth Speak. It is a youth-driven restorative justice project that collaborates with young folks on the Reservation to create adolescent enrichment and community programs. The planning process that led up to funding lasted around 7 months; we had to prove that the project was holistic, sustainable, and that the community was interested in it. Crudely put: Ellie and I had to prove that we weren’t just two white folks going into a vulnerable community to start a project that we would then forget about the next year. We corresponded with dozens of organizations, the Davis foundation, Honor the Treaties, and a number of tribal nations across the U.S to coordinate this project, and finally connected with Simply Smiles in La Plant.
The first year of Lakota Youth Speak was challenging because Ellie and I had to build trust with the young folks before we could begin to collaborate. After a month of knocking on doors repeatedly, and eventually realizing that 10am meetings aren’t a good time for teenagers to meet, we started to make some headway in terms of trust, respect, and creative programs. We got involved with Lakota mental health professionals, introducing them in safe, low-stakes settings for both adolescent and community workshops. Meeting twice per week, we worked to plan a community meal that had hands-on art stations, two awesome Lakota professionals who spoke about their work, and live music. That year we really focused on space; forging common space for teens to feel comfortable, safe, and cool, visiting sacred space (we took trips to the Badlands and Black Hills), and making space for every person who wanted to be involved in the program.
This summer, we’re working to simplify Lakota Youth Speak, and collaborate with more Lakota makers and creators.
I believe that it’s really important for the young folks we work with to have artists, professionals, and all around bad-ass adults who are similar to them. I’m white, I didn’t grow up in La Plant, or on a Reservation: I can be a facilitator, and an ally. I can support the beautiful young people I work with as they push up against the systemic challenges that abound for indigenous folks in the U.S., but I don’t think that I’m fit to be the best role model for them.
Heroes, role models; they’re people who a young person can identify with, aspire to become. If a child don’t see someone who looks like her, talks like her, acts like her in a position of power, in a heroic role, then she becomes instilled with the idea that people like her don’t become role models.
Whatʼs one of your favorite projects - past, present, or a project in the works?
My most recent project re:love is a self-published magazine that features work from 30 artists, many of whom had never shared their work publicly. Spanning 6 months, I facilitated the project from inception to distribution, and worked with artists in-person and virtually. Each contribution was submitted in response to being asked to think critically about identity. re:love derives its form from each contributor’s original work; this zine is about approaching each other’s differences with curiosity and love.
(I’m also working on a book for my favorite tattoo shop, which I’m really excited about!!! I’ll let you know when it’s coming out.)
Whatʼs the best piece of advice/quote that youʼve received about creating? Or, conversely, what would you recommend to other artists?
Try to be in conversation with people who are going to challenge the way that you think. While it’s been important to surround myself with people who support me, it’s been just as important to engage with people who challenge me. People who look at my art and say, “I don’t get it,” or “Is that even art?” It’s easy to become emboldened by supportive communities, both in-person and online. We often forget that tension and challenges are fertile ground for innovation and self-expression.
Bonus: If you could be any plant (existing or made up), what would you be and why?
A sweet potato (Oven-roasted at 425 for 45 minutes with some olive oil and sea salt)
Have an idea for Speak With Your Craft? Know some interesting makers, crafters, cooks, bakers, food growers, woodworkers, herbalists, photographers, writers, actors, musicians, painters, fiber artists, and creative forces in your life? I have friends lined up in the near future, but I'm open to suggestions! Leave a comment or contact me! Remember, makers or creators need not fit into a neat box to be featured. So, here’s to more creating, crafting, listening, learning, and collaborating!