I gravitate toward ideas that ask us to think and act differently, questions that transform our understanding of the role art can play…

I gravitate toward ideas that ask us to think and act differently, questions that transform our understanding of the role art can play. Art can be whatever we want it to be. For me, it’s often an incubator for telling stories that reveal how we live our lives and why.

Both my parents had service oriented jobs. That definitely influenced how I approach what I do with art. My dad was in the army and my mom was a teacher. We moved around a lot, every two to three years in fact. The first time it was 1986, we went from South Texas to Northern Germany. We stayed up there in this little village until the wall came down. Moving seemed so normal to me back then. My sister and I learned how to adjust on a dime and pull together close-knit communities of friends to get into trouble with wherever we landed. I think moving so much taught me how to adapt in really creative ways.

The first glaringly difficult move came when I was a teenager. I was thirteen for starters, that’s a weird age, but on top of that my family relocated from Würzburg, Germany to Augusta, Georgia. Things just weren’t the same.

Life as an army brat in Germany during the 90s had been, in many ways, a wonderful bubble. It was a very diverse and socially inclusive way to grow up. We were a wily bunch of kids with a lot freedom to explore. We came from diverse backgrounds but at the same time we were all in it together. In Augusta circa 1998 however, I was confronted with blatant social stratification. There was discrimination and racism like I had never seen before. It was the first time I remember not wanting to adapt to my surroundings, but to change them.

My family has always supported me. One time when I was nineteen, I had this idea to accept an Army scholarship to pay for college. On orientation day it all became real though. I was talking to the commanding officer and I suddenly changed my mind. I decided to study theater right then and there and my dad put his full support behind me. He was about to be deployed to Iraq and probably knew I’d end up there too if I took that scholarship. My mom, she taught me how to teach, and how to believe in what I’m doing no matter how hard it gets. As long as my heart is in the right place, she backs me up. My sister, she taught me how to smile no matter what, and hot damn she gave me my stellar taste in 90’s music!

I think it’s nice to explore ways of merging our upbringings with our art practices, even in the most subtle ways. It’s one of the things that makes art so impactful. It’s like, no matter how fantastical our ideas are, no matter how out there our art projects may be, this merger of our backgrounds with new ideas is how we relate to one another in a very foundational way.

I do believe art can be of service to others and to yourself in the most undaunted ways. That’s why listening to people’s stories is such a huge part of my life. It’s what drew me to Expats of Amsterdam and made me jump into the community. I’m really looking forward to finding and sharing a diversity of stories here in Amsterdam. I think we can foster a beautiful sense of connectedness across the city through the art of mutual storytelling.


Interview with Marilyn Volkman


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