Sara M. Zak is a western New York visual artist specializing in oil painting and ephemeral, interactive installations. Her new mural in the Main Street and Depot Avenue area of Niagara Falls focuses on environmental justice.
Sara’s work is in private collections across the country and has been acquired by the Burchfield Penney Art Center and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo. Sara was honored to be named a fall 2014 finalist for the Sustainable Arts Foundation Award in San Francisco. In 2011, Sara founded the grassroots artists’ initiative Painting for Preservation. She teaches regular painting workshops, is a NYFA Mark alumnus, and holds an MFA in Studio Art from the University of Buffalo, as well as degrees in painting, art history and education from the University at Buffalo. She teaches drawing, painting, color theory, and two-dimensional design at Villa Maria College in Buffalo.
When conceptualizing her mural, she wanted to pick an idea that wasn’t already represented in the array of murals in the Main and Depot area. She decided to focus on environmental justice, particularly the Love Canal chemical disaster and how it affected renters in the Griffin Manor housing development.
Women led the effort to facilitate change with the Love Canal chemical disaster, as a lot of the rentees at Griffin Manor were larger families and many single mothers. Sara took the crisis and decided to focus on the human aspect of it all.
“It evolved into how people need to have an interest in the environment for kids’ safety,” she said. “That speaks across all communities, but there is a particular relevance to poor communities where the environment is often not as safe. Environmental justice is social justice. The whole thing evolved into the importance of caring and providing for the kids by creating a safe environment for them, and if we’re lucky, they’ll move on to create a safe environment for their kids, and on and on and on.”
This is actually the first mural she’s ever completed on her own, but Sara is no stranger to painting on a large scale.
“I work on a large scale in the studio, so a lot of my studio paintings are a minimum of 8 by 10 feet or 12 by 12 feet,” she said. “This is my first mural. I decided to bring my studio process out into the open.”