“Art matters. I don’t think art is a luxury. I don’t think it’s a commodity. I think it’s a language. I think it makes ideas and thoughts and expressions accessible to us. I think it creates a platform for discussion that other ways don’t.”  –Enzina Marrari

Enzina Marrari, B.A. Art ’05, is Public Art Curator of Anchorage’s public-art program. (Photo by Philip Hall  / University of Alaska Anchorage)

New beginnings

Enzina Marrari, B.A. Art ’05, was just 19 years old when she decided to move solo to Alaska. She was dissatisfied with her transition to college in her home state of Illinois. When she heard a friend talking about Alaska in a passing conversation, her interest was piqued.

“Something clicked in my brain,” she said. “I thought, ‘Alaska sounds like a really good adventure, and I’m craving adventure.’”

So, Marrari started researching colleges to see if she could transfer. She soon discovered UAA and decided to make the move. It was not the easiest transition. She felt lost when she first arrived as she sought to establish herself and her identity outside of the life she left behind. But in other ways it felt like a natural progression in her personal growth. Settling on art as her major helped ground her. She also found the Anchorage community to be very friendly and supportive.

“That was something that really kind of struck me,” she said.

 

Art is for everyone

That support was also demonstrated by Professor Hugh McPeck, then head of the UAA Sculpture program, who encouraged Marrari to stay focused at points she felt particularly burnt out from the stress of working while going to school. He became her mentor while she was in college and continued to be a friend and advocate following her graduation. His death three years ago was a blow to students, both past and present, as well as to the art community.

Marrari said McPeck was instrumental in helping her shape her vision as an artist. She describes her work now as quiet and introspective. She primarily uses three categories of art – mixed media, performance and installation, and wearable sculpture – to express personal concepts and ideas in order to create a shared experience around them.

The irony is that using art as a platform to create a shared experience can be isolating for the artist initially. Marrari discussed the difficulty in the art-marking process and the importance of problem-solving skills to execute an idea and communicate it authentically to viewers.

Her primary message to people who may feel awkward about stepping foot into an art gallery is that art is accessible and available to everyone, and it doesn’t require any special skills to appreciate. She also thinks art is something everyone could do if they set aside their fears.

“We can always find justification or excuses not to do something, and it’s often fear-based,” she said. “I truly think everyone can create. I think we live in a culture where if you’re not good at something right away then you should abandon it and find something else you’re good at. But I know very few people who are a prodigy at art-making right off the bat. Many of us have to work at it.”

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Curator, coordinator, contributor

Work at it she does, but not just in her studio. Marrari works full time as the Municipality of Anchorage’s public art curator. The public art program, based on state and federal law, was passed in the 1970s. It mandates municipal structures or facilities with construction budgets greater than $250,000 to allocate 1 percent of the budget to acquire permanent artwork for the site. For projects with budgets that exceed $1 million, artwork must be selected through a juried public process.

She highlights the importance of public art as a way to tell the story of our community and state, while reflecting our sense of identity. She also notes that public art helps fuel the local economy by employing artists and increasing opportunities for local distributors, contractors and industries.

“Public art invigorates and revitalizes our public spaces,” she said. “It shows a community that cares about its city, that takes care of its city, that wants its city to reflect its beliefs.”

In her spare time, Marrari also coordinates art shows for Middle Way Café, a place she has worked for more than 17 years in some way, shape or form. When the café moved into a larger space nine years ago, she pitched the idea to her boss to let her coordinate art shows there, recognizing the space could provide artists of all stages with the opportunity to showcase their work. He agreed. Although it was challenging to find artists at first, now the café is booked two years in advance.

Marrari laments the fact there still aren’t more spaces in town for emerging artists. Granted, she probably doesn’t need one more thing on her plate given her full-time job, creating her own artwork and teaching as an adjunct in the UAA Department of Art, but it’s something she can’t seem to give up.

“I do it because I love this community,” she said. “I care deeply about helping to create a sense of connection. Maybe that comes from wanting there to be a space for people to feel they belong to something.”

Watch an Indie Alaska “I Make Wearable Art” video featuring Enzina here.

 

Written by Kirstin Olmstead, UAA Office of University Advancement