What I’ve Learned…So Far: Maren Conrad

By the Editors

We first met Sacramento artist Maren Conrad (Instagram) nearly five years ago, when she became an accidental lighting rod over artistic expression, censorship, double standards, gender roles and feminism. Dozens of gallery shows, installations and murals later, Maren has emerged as one of GOTG’s all-time favorite artists. Her passion is evident with each stroke, and she tirelessly gives her time and talents back to the Sacramento.

How do you define success? Personal fulfillment?

Maren with her latest mural at Urban Roots (1322 V St)

I define success by personal fulfillment. My measuring stick is not bank accounts, cars, or a collection of Luis Vuitton bags. It’s not competitive or based on what others are achieving. Success to me is waking most mornings to a day filled with getting to do what I love, surrounded by people I truly enjoy, and having the autonomy to tell pretty much anyone that I do not have to work with them if they do not respect me, the people who work with me, or the boundaries we’ve set in order to produce the best work possible.

What is the driving force in your life?

Compulsion to take ordinary supplies and make something extraordinary with them shoots me out of bed most days. On days I am not painting, I love cooking. On days I am not cooking or painting, I am rearranging furniture, picking light fixtures or tile, or scouring the aisles of hardware stores for new materials that have hidden purposes. I spend my entire life trying to make this world (whether it be a wall, house, office, dinner table) more beautiful and interesting than I found it.

What has been one of your most life-defining moments? 

I left an ugly relationship when my son was in 2nd grade. I found myself broke, with an art degree, with a child.  My husband had been tragically taken, and my money had been squandered by a trusted family friend. I was in Winco with $43 to my name and had to put cheese back because I couldn’t afford it. In that moment, I realized there was something I had that couldn’t be stolen or taken or squandered. I had a dream, and as long as I held onto it, and didn’t let anyone discourage me- especially myself- I was not at rock bottom. And from that place, I called schools and asked to come teach art.  I hosted summer art camps.  I said “yes” to every art door that opened.  And they still keep opening…

What’s the biggest work-related lesson you’ve learned?

The biggest professional lesson I’ve learned is to do what scares you. Tackle what feels impossible. Dare to publicly belly-flop. The lessons that you learn making mistakes are far more valuable than practicing what you already know. STRETCH.

What’s the biggest personal or health-related lesson you’ve learned? 

Listen to your gut. This does not mean listen to your fear, in the creative realm, you can’t let fear drive your life. This is that pit in your stomach when you sense something is not what it seems. You don’t have to have data or firm proof to say “No thank you.” You are the best friend and best advocate you will ever have. Treat yourself like you would treat your most cherished friend. In my life, I cannot remember a time where I was happy I went against my gut. My biggest regrets in life are inaction or letting someone else talk me out of my intuitions.

What’s been the most surprising thing about how your life/career turned out? 

Maren’s “Lady Bird” mural for Wide Open Walls at 16/I St.

I cannot believe that people pay me for my imagination.  I walk into University Art, and I boldly parade up and down the isles with confidence that I can buy whatever supplies I fancy, and I can sell what I make from them.  That magic is not lost on me.  It’s amazingly awesome.  I can’t buy a Bentley, but I can make something worth more than the sum of its parts.

What do you value most in friendships?

I value every friendship’s unique gifts. For some, it is longevity and the perspective I gain from the witnesses to my life. Some friends have interesting angles on the world. The gift is expanded views and deepened understandings of paths I haven’t had to walk (racism, the legal system, etc.) Others, I just find wildly entertaining and endearing. The one thing I do NOT have patience for is competition in friendships. No one’s accomplishments have ever cost me anything. If there is an ounce of rooting for others’ failures, I’m not going to put the time into keeping that a part of my life. I have no room for haters.

What is your most treasured experience?

Everyday I try to have a good parenting day, and everyday I do something that in retrospect, I could have handled a little (or a lot) better. My son Hunter receives daily apologies, and I try to tell him the moment I realize my shortcomings. My most treasured experience was watching Hunter act in Sacramento Theater Company’s “To Kill A Mocking Bird” opening night. I wept. It was the first moment I really saw him. Him. Not this person I am responsible for, or am trying to manage, or trying to prevent from harm. This beautiful, charming soul that in all my mistakes and failures is still perfectly intact and amazing. Under the lights he shined, and I was just in the audience getting to watch.

Best advice you’ve received?

The best advice I’ve received is to never use the words “should’ve, could’ve, or would’ve”. They are dead ends and lead to a ton of negative unhelpful thoughts. Just by changing my framework of my disappointments/ frustrations to “_____ happened. Now what?” I have been able to let go of judgements and resentment. I communicate more effectively and honestly, and I let go of what I cannot control.

What historical figure do you most identify with? And why?

Gertrude Stein had an open door to brilliant artists, and was one in her own right. She fostered dynamic exchanges of ideas and bolstered movements. She was from Oakland and lived her life under her terms in Paris. She is just an incredible character who valued many of the things I value.  If I could have lunch with any person living or deceased, she would be my number one.

Fantasy dinner party scenario: you can invite five people (alive or not) – who do you invite? 

Gertrude Stein, Mapplethorpe, Banksy, JayZ, and Lin-Manuel Miranda because I would want to listen to their exchanges and opinions on creating culture and fostering the creative class.  I think each person would have a very unique perspective on something we (this group in particular) undeniably value.

What would you tell your 16-year-old self?

You are not fat. You are not what others tell you you are. You are capable of so much more than you know. Stop trying to fit in. Stop taking shit. High school is not important other than it will get you into college. Drive safely and remember where you put your keys.

What is your motto/personal credo?

Laugh loudly, as often as possible.

What Sacramento woman do you most admire? And why?

Mary Daffin because she is a straight-up lady boss. She has an incredible event production company. She has had successes and hiccups, and will be the first to tell you honestly about them. She isn’t afraid to ask for what she is worth, and she has an incredible standard and quality controls.  She has taken time out of her busy life to mentor other women, including myself. We met for lunch a couple years ago and she looked me square in the eyes and said, “If you are going to have your own business, get a good accountant.” I listened. Mary’s life is rich with honest friendships and laughter.  She is fierce and loyal. She is just the best, and I am lucky to know her.

SacJet’s International Private Terminal at Mather.

Biggest opportunity facing Sacramento in the next 5 years?

I think Sacramento is like a teenager. We have areas where we are copying what we think other people think is cool. We are also breaking out and hitting our stride and finding our voice. We will be a cool city NOT because we have what other cities have, but because we have what other cities DO NOT have. We are a quirky incredibly diverse community in Midtown. We are every color, every age, and every sexual orientation – without blinking. In Midtown, its totally normal to see an old homeless man, a mom with a stroller in $100 yoga pants and a transvestite all on the same sidewalk, at the same hour, at the same time. It is beautifully textured with acceptance and open-mindedness.  If we lead with our moral compass, our city will be amazing on a level a lot higher than having a cool bar scene (we have one of those too).

Biggest challenge facing Sacramento in the next 5 years?

Sacramentans love to hate Sacramento. Our designers and developers constantly drag back copy-cats of other city’s original concepts. Not that you have to reinvent the wheel, but why aren’t we trying to resonate with our citizens instead of buying into what resonates with the citizens of other cities with different climates and demographics? I am falling in love with the places I see spring up from the imaginations of our dynamic creative collective. South, yes please. Mulvaney’s feels like visiting family. A stop into Waterboy = perfect date.  Low Brau = more please. Unseen Heroes = thank you for all the areas you are activating.  Track 7 & Two Rivers Cider = yup yup.  Team Ride took a Soul Cycle concept and made it a dance party I don’t want to miss. WAL = thank you Ali for putting the Art Dorms in the middle of the city, everyone cherishes it. Localis- thank you for getting me out of my culinary box. For our city’s future, sponsor our local talent.

Latest Sacramento guilty pleasure?

I absolutely love the Co-op’s new location. I’ve been a member for at least ten years. I have randomly developed a couple food allergies this past year that has made eating out less enjoyable. The co-op (with all it’s ingredient listing and quality/anti-cruelty oversight) has made my extremely annoying new issue totally manageable. It is kick-ass that we have a place where you can have whatever crazy food demand met. Gluten free vegan? No problem. Paleo? Handled. Animal Rights? Covered. Plus, their sushi is awesome and sustainably caught. It’s my jam right now.

Maren’s work at the Andaz Hotel in Napa, Calif.

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