Posted by: Liz Massey | June 4, 2008

In the Studio With…Martha Ma

Today, I’m posting the interview with food and media educator/producer Martha Ma, executive producer of the Food For Thought Film Festival, which celebrated a successful second year in April. The goal of the festival, according to its website, is to “create public awareness of current food issues to promote action within our communities for the protection and sustainability of our basic human rights, the overall health of our communities and the health of our environment.”

Martha Ma is also host and producer of The Tasty Life, a bi-weekly television show on Manhattan (NYC) Public Access channel 57, and the editor of the e-newsletter entitled Eater’s Digest. She also heads Nani Ola Productions, which presents the film festival. Martha is a good example of an artist using her media-related talents for a social good, in her case to promote healthy, sustainable lifestyle, respect for the environment and active citizenship for social change.

Tell us about your creative pursuits, paid and unpaid.

Ma: The Food For Thought Film Festival is my annual project that I consider my community service, since more money comes out of my pocket for this project than goes in. I also produce a TV show called The Tasty Life on public access in Manhattan and I’m just thrilled I could do it for almost free. I’ve been writing a monthly e-newsletter called Eater’s Digest for the past two years that also comes from the heart.
I love using different forms of media for education and as a springboard for thought, discussion and action. All of my creative pursuits are around the subject of food. It’s the one subject I have found to be connected to absolutely everything in the universe, not to mention, I love to eat! I’ve also been taking some botanical drawing classes and I’m in love with the shapes, textures and varieties of fruits and vegetables in existence.
I’m hoping to ensure this amazing diversity is always with us by making people aware of the importance of making choices that help preserve nature rather than destroy it. Maybe someday someone will want to pay me for some of my creative endeavors but it’s not stopping me from sharing information that I know is valuable to the public. Although I’m very far from being independently wealthy, I don’t believe that money should be an issue when you’re pursuing something you’re passionate about. There wouldn’t be too much creativity happening if that was the case!

Do you have any formal training in your creative discipline(s)? Do you feel training is important in creative development? Why/why not?

MA: I do not have any formal training in event production or writing, although I was trained to produce the TV show through Manhattan Neighborhood Network. They require you to go through the training before they let you use their equipment.
I think the importance of training depends on the skills you are trying to develop. For example, learning how to use the camera equipment and editing software was immensely important and necessary to produce a show. I could have easily tinkered with the equipment and eventually learned how to use everything but that would have taken me ages, not to mention I would have risked screwing something up!
I’ve also been drawing since I was a kid but finally taking some classes definitely helped me to improve my technical skills.
I don’t think however, that it’s impossible to develop your creative pursuits without formal training. As far as putting together events, this was pure experiential learning. Learning from experience takes a bit longer and you make mistakes, but that’s all part of developing your skills: okay this works, that doesn’t.
Equally important to formal training is training yourself to continually practice and take risks, never stop learning from your experiences and make sure you are truly dedicated to your pursuits. Also, no formal training can cultivate a passion to create.

What habits do you cultivate to facilitate your creative “flow”?
MA: I stay informed and on top of what’s going on in the world, which riles me up for action. On the other hand, I meditate daily to keep it from making me crazy. I write an awful lot and have been keeping journals for over ten years; I’ve got a giant box of them hidden in my living room.

What advice would you give to a “blocked” artist in your discipline to free up their creative energies?
MA: Get away from any type of media or electronic apparatus, yes, including your cell phone, and go spend some quality time in nature; that usually gets the juices flowing.

Which artistic project that you are working on excites you the most right now?
MA: Believe it or not I’m already planning for the next film festival; it’s going to be bigger and better than the last. The next one will include music, art, culture and food!
I’m also gearing up to take the film festival on a little tour. I’m excited at the prospect of getting out of the city for a while.

How do you select your creative projects? What elements of a potential project tend to intrigue you the most?
MA: My projects mostly entail using media for education and to get relevant, useful information out to the general public that will somehow improve people’s lives and get folks’ little wheels up there spinning and moving. Timely subjects (such as where our food comes from) that affect our existence here on earth and that don’t generally get covered or explored by mass media are attractive, since something’s gotta fill the void.
I’m drawn to projects that provoke a change somehow, whether it’s attitude, behavior or belief. Any project that can make you question the way you live your life is right up my alley.

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