She surveys her work. She’s just finished planting tomatoes, okra, eggplant, beets, spinach, sugar peas and squash.
Look, here’s a chili pepper that’s perfect for picking. She plucks it with panache.
Sara’s vegetable garden used to be potted on the balcony of her apartment, so she’s glad to give the plants more room to grow in her new, larger space that fits her new, larger life.
A lifelong learner and earnest educator, Sara has lived many places and has pursued myriad opportunities, so unlike her vegetables, she doesn’t need deep roots to grow.
This move has been especially exciting because she got married last year, and this will be the first proper place she and her husband, an artist and teacher, have chosen together.
Sara, who is the Museum of the Moving Image’s deputy director of education and community engagement, has lived in New York off and on since 1995 when she came to study at Barnard College.
After spending the first dozen years of her life in Santa Barbara, California, Sara started her odyssey by moving to Pittsburg, where her single mother got a teaching job.
“I’ve always been involved in art and academic environments,” she says, adding that her mother has devoted herself to art for the last several years. “I went to museums all the time and took classes there. I come from a family of teachers and academics. If you go back in my family history, there probably are about 50 teachers.”
After graduating from Barnard with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and women’s studies, Sara, through the nonprofit Teach For America, became a middle-school teacher in Phoenix.
It was, to say the least, a learning experience.
At night, Sara became a student again, earning a master’s degree in education from Arizona State University.
“I’ve always loved teaching because it’s a service,” she says. “I like the idea of having intellectual conversations and sharing skills.”
Her next teaching job was in Mexico City, where her father, who died at a young age, was from.
“I visited my grandmother every weekend,” she says, adding that she learned a lot of things, including film editing and advanced Spanish, while there.
Two years later, she headed back to The Big Apple, this time to train Teach For America applicants. At the same time, she was a consultant to a sociologist at Barnard.
Her next position – what she calls her dream job – was at the Queens Museum, where she became the founding manager of the New New Yorkers Program, which teaches immigrants life skills through the arts.
Then, she was off to the University of the Arts London, where she studied from 2009 to 2012, working on a doctorate in art theory.
“I didn’t stay in the city all that time,” she says. “I traveled through the Middle East and Central America as part of my research.”
She came back to Queens, where, among other things, she continued her consulting work and became a freelance curator and a dealer in Latin American art.
In 2015, she landed the job as director of education and public engagement for No Longer Empty, a nonprofit that turns unoccupied storefronts into public art exhibitions.
Her love of art and all of her academic and professional work led to the job at the Museum of the Moving Image. The position was created in 2017, the same year Sara earned her doctorate.
In addition to figuring out how to engage the community via online classes and activities in the wake of the pandemic, Sara is working on creating a game lab for children of all ages.
Although Sara has taken many art classes and loves to draw, paint and sculpt, her real passion is “being an arts worker to help people interact with art. I love the intersection of art and education.”
She sees art as a way to bring the world together.
“Art is the true language of love,” she says, “because you communicate with your heart, and it breaks down boundaries. The synergy, the magic happens when people create art together.”
Sara intends to keep making that magic happen at the Museum of the Moving Image for years to come.
“I love working there,” she says, adding that someday she hopes to establish a community arts center.
If not in Astoria, then wherever she and her moving boxes end up.
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.