It’s hearth season… The time of year when most of us gather with family and friends in search of warmth and good food. In that spirit, we bring you an interview with Massachusetts A4A grantee Sarah Platanitis, food writer and blogger extraordinaire.
Based in Feeding Hills, MA, Sarah joined the ranks of Assets for Artists in 2012, and she continues to impress us with the scope and energy of her creative work. (It’s telling that Sarah’s tagline is Writer | Photographer | Creative.) Sarah’s award-winning journalistic writing and photography, usually with a food or lifestyle slant, can be found in media outlets across the country. At her Anselblue Design Studio, she makes hand-printed kitchen textiles and reclaimed home decor. And, drawing on her background as a journalist and educator, Sarah teaches a range of user-friendly workshops on media readiness.
In this interview, Assets for Artist’s Briana Halpin talks with Sarah about creative versatility, the ongoing Women and Food Project, and favorite holiday recipes.
You seem to be everywhere, and always in a different hat: journalist, photographer, educator, printmaker, curator, foodie. Could you say a little about the evolution of your creative persona?
It may seem like an unrelated list but, to me, it feels like a logical progression, one that has taken my interests into different mediums. For example, when I lived in Japan, I never thought, “Oh, I’m just here to teach English so that’s all I’m going to do.” Instead, I took block printing classes and explored lesser-known parts of the country with my camera and an octogenarian friend who could out-bicycle me uphill while puffing on a Marlboro. No matter what I do, I’m always calling on a bedrock set of skills that I learned early on: writing, photography and teaching. I also grew up with the support of a high school teacher mom who likes art and a jack-of-all-trades dad who enjoys talking with people and comes from a family with deep roots in the restaurant business.
While some of your creative projects are profitable, others – like your food blog – seem primarily about loving what you do. How do you strike a balance between your many projects? Do you feel that everything you do is connected in some way?
The best way to balance many projects is to plan ahead. That’s not to say that I don’t have days when I’m working right up against a deadline or have completely forgotten to do something. Some weeks it can be tough to keep a routine, which is something that I think many creatives struggle with, but I find I’m happier when I’m able to stick to one. It’s all about finding a way that works and learning how to cut yourself some slack when it doesn’t or if a plan needs to be tweaked. Everything I do has become connected in some way so I’m able to use any overlaps or extras in one project as something to develop in the future.
Your biggest recent undertaking was the Women and Food Project, in which you collected stories about food from 12 women of varying backgrounds. How did this idea come into being?
The idea for the Women & Food Project came from writing so many of my food stories in newspapers and magazines. During interviews, I would hear such great side stories that I sadly couldn’t include in the pieces. I used my notes as the starting point of a September 2013 exhibit at Easthampton City Arts+ Gallery with documentary-style photographs and an intermedia approach to storytelling. QR codes enabled those visitors with smartphones to access cloud-stored audio and video interview excerpts. A video monitor also played the interview loop. My favorite part of the exhibit was an interactive module that invited visitors to contribute their own food-related memories on recipe cards to become part of the Project. (Some of those stories can be heard – or found, your pick – here.)
The Project itself was a smashing success: it got some great press and over 300 guests attended the opening. The Project has picked up momentum and will continue in 2014 with goals to connect with more K-12 and university classrooms for an educational component and to interview a dozen new women, one from each state in the Northeast region.
How many of the featured women were present at the Project’s September 2013 opening at Easthampton City Arts? Did you witness interesting conversations happening between them?
Ten of the women from the project came to the opening. It was exciting to have them all meet and as if the exhibit came to life. My mom, one of the participants, had the best time! They all shared stories about their interview day or discovered something they had in common together. I thought it’d be fun to take pictures of the women in front of their photos. The best part about that was when visitors realized who the women were… instant conversation starter!
According to your website, you teach “media readiness” workshops. What’s that about, and what kinds of clients do you attract?
The media readiness workshops came out of my work as a journalist. I noticed that artists really struggled when someone wanted to write about them or their work. They had a hard time preparing for the interview and often inadvertently made it harder for a journalist to write about them. In my workshop, I talk about the interview process from start to finish and teach how to write a great press release and prepare a media kit—all necessary items in a strong PR & marketing toolbox. Participants are mainly artists and creative-minded small businesses or organizations. I will be teaching my “Press Ready 101” workshop on January 30th at Easthampton City Arts+ and on March 19th at the Press Gallery in North Adams as part of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers.
Here’s a less-than-general interest question (but one of great interest for those, like me, who are living without gluten.) What gluten-free treats will you be baking for the holidays this year? Do you have a favorite recipe you’d like to share?
I will definitely be making a recipe for Salted Pecan and Toffee Brownies. I started working on it in the past few days and it’s inspired by the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Desserts Cookbook as well as an interview with Brent Ridge, the book’s co-author. (Link: sarahinthekitchen.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/december-favorite-beekman-1802-heirloom-dessert-cookbook)