Marie Manski

It isn’t enough to just look at Marie Manski’s (MFA '13) art; she wants you to experience it.

Whether you taste her homemade tahini honey ice cream or her take on the banana split or wander through one of her labyrinths, Manski wants people to put themselves in her work.

“One of my goals is to engage the audience and make them participators so they can feel invested in the works, and in a sense, they invest in themselves,” she said.

When she enrolled in PAFA’s MFA program, Manski expected to put aside her previous work in sculpture and technical theatre to focus on painting and drawing. But she couldn’t ignore the desire to incorporate theatre into her art practice. PAFA doesn’t have a theatre department so Manski turned to installations as a creative outlet.

“I use my skills from theatre to create an environment in installation,” she said. “I see the crossover there a bit and I think the way I consider my audience is similar to that of theatre too.”

The audience gets to see and taste a piece of Manski’s personal story when they experience her art. The previously mentioned Tahini Honey ice cream is part of her Sarraf Splits. Manski grew up in Latrobe, PA the home of the banana split and Sarraf is her paternal grandfather’s original surname.

The Sarraf Splits are her take on the quintessential American dessert.

“My father is of Syrian heritage and he always thought it was important for us to have our roots incorporated into our lives. He cooked amazing meals for us pretty much every day,” Manski said. “The Sarraf Split was about me combining those flavors from my childhood but also the environment I grew up in, in this all-American part of the country.”

When she served the splits at Yalla Punk’s Festival & Conference at the Crane Arts Center, she encouraged people to take a recipe card and experiment to create their own original dish at home.

“My work is definitely deeply rooted in my autobiography,” she said. “But it’s also inspired by my love of theatre and wanting to take my story and tell people it but through their own lives, so the story can also be about them.”

As the admissions counselor for PAFA’s MFA program, Manski is also helping other artists tell their own stories.

“I kind of see it as a perfect marriage because it allows me to have my own creative practice but then also contribute to other people's creative practice and thus be inspired with my practice so it kind of has a beautiful cycle to it,” she said.

Each year Manski aims to exhibit at least twice a year, which can be a logistical challenge with her role as an admissions counselor. For much of the fall, Manski is visiting schools across the country to recruit for PAFA’s MFA program.

Her recent exhibition, a labyrinth which was part of Fleisher Art Memorial’s Wind Challenge opened in the middle of her travel season.

“It's the nature of being an artist that you have to juggle different things and go with the flow.”

She’s now looking forward to stepping back into her studio and creating without the pressure of an upcoming exhibition.

“I’ve got some ideas brewing for some costumes I want to make,” she said. “I want to research my families heritage and figure out the clothing that people were wearing when they immigrated to the United States and make a collection out of that. I have a diverse background that I think would be really interesting to visually see next to one another.”

Even though it isn’t always easy wearing two hats, artist and artist supporter, Manski says it’s important she keeps contributing to the Philadelphia art community in both capacities.

“I really like having that balance in my life of having my studio practice but also having a job that helps educate people about the arts.”

—LeAnne Matlach (

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is the United States’ first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers a world-class collection of American art, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and educational opportunities in the fine arts. The PAFA Museum aims to tell America's diverse story through art, expanding who has been included in the canon of art history through its collections, exhibitions, and public programs, while classes educate artists and appreciators with a deep understanding of traditions and the ability to challenge conventions. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.