Artist Statement

“Marla I have something for you that I think you can do something with.”

A cardboard box is handed to me. I open it up to find hundreds of used vigil candles.

The first thought that raced through my mind was, Too many F@#cking Vigils. This ultimately became the title of a mixed media mosaic (sold in 2021), however I return to this box again and again, as those candles speak volumes.

I love "to make" art/objects and draw inspirationfrom both visionary artists who create through obsession and need, and ancientart born of ritual and culture.

I tackle imagery through metaphor and material. In eachpiece, the process and materials are married to the conceptualization. Music isa huge influence in my creative process, intertwined and often becoming titlesof art.

There are two overarching themes that permeate my work.Syncretism and Social Justice. My studio is located above The Word of GodChurch, in a strip mall. Every Sunday, a full band plays. Bass thumping andsoulful gospel music and praise come through the ventilation system. Sometimesit is rented out to a Spanish Pentecostal Church, and the music abruptlychanges, challenging my senses. A pole dancing exercise class often overlapswith Cardi B and Beyonce playing. While many might find this a distraction,this soundscape shapes my work consciously and unconsciously.

Both the joy and tragedy of current times are cause forreflection, creation, and response. My art is often created in response toinjustice both nationally and internationally. There is a tension within thebeauty.

My current mixed media art pieces seek to provoke thought about the power of love in the face of racism, trauma, and oppression.


Marla McLean is a Reggio Inspired Artist Educator working since 1997 as founding Atelierista at School Within School, a DC public elementary school. 

Daily encounters with art materials, expression, wonder, and childrenfurther expand her notions of the artistic process and creativity. She speaksand facilitates workshops on Creativity and Young Children nationally and internationally. Marla is faculty at DC Project Zero Summer Teacher Institute. She is a Research Associate with Harvard Project Zero, engaged in developing GlobalCompetence in young children. She is an ACES Fellow (adverse childhoodexperiences) developing trauma informed art practices and compassionate spaces inDC Public Schools.

Marla’s education includes a Master’s degree in Studio Art from NYU, Venice, Italy/NYC, a BA degree in Social Art and Education fromGoddard College, Plainfield VT, and an Associate degree from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in Photography Multimedia. 

A lifelong learner, she’s studied sax,Monarch rescue, learned to catch a piranha for dinner in the Amazon, and mosteclectically, received a Certificate in large puppet making, stilt walking, andcommunity building from Parade School in Baltimore, MD. As an adjunct Professorat Corcoran College of Art and Design/George Washington University, Washington,DC, and Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, Marla engaged in mentoringand facilitating adults in art, social justice, and teaching.

She is a practicing artist at Purple Line Studios (formerly Passageways Artist Studios) in Riverdale, Maryland. She lives In Silver Spring. MD in a house adorned with mosaic with her husband, dog, and visiting friends and family.


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