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Creative Community

By Meagan Russell
In Bayou Artist
May 1st, 2022



It’s no surprise that Madeline Marak’s career is centered around art. As the Shreveport native grew up, her parents placed a high value on the arts, doing their best to encourage their children to be involved, whether by playing an instrument, taking dance classes, or creating artwork of their own. Between their influence and her natural affinity for making things, pursuing a creative career seemed like a natural choice for Marak. There was just one issue: she wasn’t exactly sure what an art career could look like.

“I don’t remember seeing a lot of examples of what [having] a profession as an artist looked like,” she confesses. “That was definitely a struggle through high school after graduation, ‘OK, what do I do with this thing I’m good at?’”

Art, or “the thing she’s good at,” led Marak to Tulane University after graduating from Caddo Magnet High School. After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in painting from the New Orleans-based private university, she remained in the city putting her degree to use as an art teacher for summer camps and after-school programs. 

“I grew up going to summer camps, and that was a space that felt familiar,” she says of her post-undergraduate positions. “I was working with pre-schoolers all the way up to fifth graders. It was exciting.”

Since the new graduate’s teaching gig was part-time, Marak also found herself working as an assistant to a local artist, doing things like prepping canvases and gathering materials. Her jobs, though both centered around art, were different enough to give the young artist a glimpse into where her degree could take her. She says, “It was a cool experience to see [that] there’s education, [and then] there’s being a practicing artist selling your artwork. Just being in New Orleans and seeing those different paths was good for me.” 

Still, Marak wanted to explore her options even more deeply. With the hopes of taking her pursuit of art to the next level, she enrolled in Washington University’s Master of Fine Arts program and moved to start a new chapter in St. Louis, Missouri. 

“I thought, ‘I haven’t figured it out yet, so let me go be around people that are continuing to figure it out,’” she says. “Art is one of those things you don’t really have to have a degree in, so to get a higher education degree in art was like, ‘Wait, why am I doing this?’ at first. But, it was really nice being among like-minded people who are all striving for the same level of rigor and professionalism.”

Despite being inspired by her peers and instructors, graduating from Washington University would leave Marak doing the same thing she had done in New Orleans: getting by on part-time gigs that were taking a serious toll on her own creativity. She wasn’t making much art after grad school, she explains, and that signaled it was time to do some reevaluating. Well, that, and some encouragement from her graduate school colleagues. 

“The friends I have from that program were the ones that were like, ‘Take a break. Your art practice can look like whatever it means to you,’” she says. “They were really encouraging [and told me to] go explore and figure it out.”

And that she certainly did. Marak’s search for something new led her out of the United States to Brazil and Ireland where she would complete two art residencies. The work she did in those countries plus both of her experiences as an artist-in-residence gave her much-needed doses of perspective and inspiration. 

“It was a reminder that I can focus on my art, I can take time for myself, and I can be around these like-minded people again,” Marak says. “And I think it was a reminder that there’s no right or wrong way to be an artist. There’s no model of what you should be doing, and that took some pressure off.”

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from her travels, however, was that Marak much preferred creating with and around people to doing solitary work all day. She explains, “I was doing some community-based projects in grad school, and that’s really what I was enjoying. So, I came back to Shreveport to do some community and nonprofit stuff.” 

Marak dove headfirst into serving the community, accepting a job as an adjunct instructor at Bossier Parish Community College, taking on the role of executive director of the Marshall Regional Arts Council in Marshall, Texas, and getting involved with a church’s community arts program. Finally, she thought, the things she was doing felt right. 

With the full heart from working with others came a full schedule, and the constant going back and forth between Marshall and Shreveport became exhausting. It was time again for a change. Fortunately, Marak didn’t have to ponder her next steps very long. In May 2019, the North Central Louisiana Arts Council (NCLAC) set out to find a new executive director, a position for which Marak was the perfect candidate. 

“That was the culmination of all these little side jobs,” she says of the position with NCLAC. “It was really great to use my art knowledge while giving back, being community-based, and [doing] things with people.”

Marak was welcomed to NCLAC and Lincoln parish with open arms, but even more impressive than the warm reception, she says, was the emphasis on and appreciation for art that already existed in Ruston. 

“I’ve been in some communities where [it’s like], ‘Why do we want that?’” she says. “I felt like when I came to NCLAC, it was, ‘We know what they do, we like what they do, and how can we partner more?’ That’s incredible. People are very collaborative here, I feel.” 

Marak spent nearly three years with NCLAC, spearheading well-known and beloved events like Artoberfest, the Ruston Peach Festival’s Peach Art Exhibit, summer art camps, independent film screenings, and more. She’s loved the work she’s gotten to do and appreciated the businesses and individuals she has worked with, but earlier this year, Marak resigned from her position. It was time once again, she says, for a shift. 

“I am taking a break and a pause right now to focus a little bit more on my art and being creative,” she says. “I definitely think, through COVID, I burnt out really quickly, so I’m kind of reeling it back in.” 

In recent months, Marak’s work has been exhibited publicly at venues like Fringe and Creative Exchange in Ruston and Artspace Shreveport in her hometown. Making the time to make and showcase her art, she says, has been a worthwhile decision. 

“Sharing my art and putting myself out there, it’s hard to do,” she admits. “[Doing shows] reminded me I can do this, people will be receptive, and to keep showing my art and putting it out there.”

What Marak is doing now, and what she has done for the duration of her post-college journey, is “follow your highest excitement.” This advice was given by one of her professors, and it has stuck with her ever since.

“Just [going] with whatever feels like your highest level of ‘this is what I need to be doing,’ I think, usually works out,” she muses, confirming her confidence in her career choices. 

Though Marak is uncertain what she’ll do next, she will continue following her highest excitement while creating work of her own and drawing inspiration from other artists she encounters, whether meeting them in real life or following them on social media. 

“There are more people in the creative economy now than when I grow up,” she explains. “But it’s been really helpful to see examples of creatives — what they’re doing, how they’re doing it. My only model was to be an art teacher, and when that wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be or it didn’t feel right, it was like, ‘OK, now what do I do?’” 

The answer, she discovers, was to take the time to reexamine her goals and desires as needed. Marak is taking the time to figure it out, she explains with a smile and a shrug, and she encourages other artists to allow themselves the freedom to do the same. 

Lean into “whatever the moment is speaking to you,” she advises before adding, “Like, if for whatever reason, you have to knit today and knitting feels better than painting, go with that and ride it out. There might be a reason for it, or you needed to rest of break or try a different side of your brain before going back.”