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2012 Twenty Questions Interviews : Naomi Rifkin

20 Questions Interview with Naomi Rifkin

Founder of Brush Fire Painting Workshops


Naomi Rifkin

1. What's your name?

Naomi Rifkin.

2. Where are you from?

I was born in Manhattan and raised in rural upstate New York until I was 12, when my parents moved to Florida. After 14 years in Florida, I moved to San Francisco, California, which has felt like home since the day I arrived.

3. Who are you today?

A person dedicated to fully experiencing life and fully unraveling any obstacles to living my authentic, passionate dreams.

4. What do you do? (Elevator speech)

I am the founding director of Brush Fire painting Workshops, an organization that brings expressive painting classes to children and youth impacted by poverty, incarceration, and violence. We go where these kids are: schools, community centers, and locked facilities.

5. What's your story (how did you get here)?

On a professional level, it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to be. When I was 5, I decided I would be a writer. In college, I thought I might like to be a psychologist. In grad school, I went back to writing and got an MA in Journalism. I worked as a book and magazine editor for a while but felt called to do something more creative. Personally, I had been using expressive arts to heal from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it took me a while to put it all together to create Brush Fire Painting Workshops.

6. Why is creativity important to you?

I only feel whole if I have a regular creative practice. It does not matter if it is writing, painting, mixed media collage, I just have to be making things.

7. When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?

While I was an editor, I was actively looking for more fulfilling work. I volunteered to be a playwriting mentor for a young man in juvenile hall. Working with him was transformative. I started connecting the way I used art to heal myself as a way to fulfill more universal needs for being seen and loved unconditionally. I realized I could be a conduit for this kind of healing and started Brush Fire right then.

8. How did you embrace it?

I was so ready for it! I felt that I had been looking for a way to bring my whole self — all my experiences and my quirks, and my creativity to my work. And I had finally found it.

9. How did that feel?

It has been exhilarating, inspiring, exhausting, and amazing.

10. Where has your journey taken you?

I have been to some of the most neglected neighborhoods in San Francisco and worked with kids who have routinely been abused, neglected, and forgotten. Imagine an 11-year-old girl trying to get out of prostitution and what her emotional scars are like. And I have seen the amazing resilience these kids discover when their creative process is honored; they realize that the possibilities for them are, maybe not endless, but they can begin to imagine a different way of doing things than they may have ever seen before. Before I started Brush Fire, I was scared to leave my house alone. Now, ten years later, I feel so privileged to have had a front row seat for so many healing moments.

11. What challenges have you faced?

I have definitely had to face my fear of not being enough — smart enough, or strong enough, or What Ever Enough — to do the networking, fundraising and publicity necessary to keep an organization going. I still sometimes have pangs of that "not enough" feeling when I am asked to share my art.

12. What worked for you?

Remembering that I am passionate about providing healing spaces for kids who don't have a voice makes so many impossible things possible for me to do.

13. What didn't work for you?

I am no good at doing things because I "should" do them. I love writing a blog about creativity, so I do it regularly. I was told that I should use Twitter, so I tried it and it was a disaster. I don't think it should be "my way or the highway;" I am very open to suggestions and I love my mentors. I just have to keep the authentic connection to my passion for things to work out well.

14. What three tips can you share with those starting on a similar path?

  1. Like I just said, find what you're a passionate about and work from that place of authenticity. Life is hard and every endeavor has an unpleasant aspect, but we should not make it more difficult by just going through the motions.
  2. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. I have found so much of the world is conspiring to help me accomplish my highest purpose, but the world has to know what that purpose is in order to lend a hand.
  3. Give twice as much as you get. Always ask what you can contribute to someone else's dream.

15. What are you working on now?

I am making a wonderful return to writing in the form of my blog. I have really enjoyed the thinking process that leads to interesting blog posts. I've been writing down so many of my thoughts about creative process for the very first time. I am also learning how to cast molten glass, which is becoming a new obsession.

16. What's coming up for you in the next year?

Hopefully more writing and more discovering around the healing potential of creativity. And more molten glass, for sure. Professionally, I am developing an expressive painting curriculum for young women with eating disorders and I hope to partner with an eating disorder clinic to pilot this new program.

17. What else do you desire/dream to do?

I want to do so much! I would love to learn encaustic painting and organic gardening. I wan to learn how to ladle molten glass from a crucible into a sand cast mold. In the back of my mind is a curiosity about what it would take to make my own shoes. I would love to keep a beehive. I would love to learn how to make architecture models.

18. How will you make that happen?

I am lucky enough to live in a community that has resources in all these areas to take advantage of. If I could figure out how to add 12 hours to every day, I would do it all. More likely, I probably need to learn how to prioritize.

19. What question would you like to be asked (or are just itching to answer) that's not on this list?

Wow! My mind is blown with all these questions. I don't think I have more to add.

20. What's your Web site and blog address?

Both are at Paint Brush Fire Workshops: