Marifé Entenza-Sierra works on her painting in Wriston Art Center.
Senior Marifé Entenza-Sierra works on her art in the Wriston Art Center. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

It takes both confidence and creativity to become a successful artist today. Marifé Entenza-Sierra, a global studies and studio art double major at Lawrence, said she is learning that as she goes.

Entenza-Sierra, a senior from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, won a pitch contest for her Chandler Senior Experience art project at the recent Self-Employment in the Arts (SEA) conference.

Taking place in Chicago during Fall Term, the SEA conference featured workshops, lectures, and tutorials that focused on SEA’s objective of helping emerging creatives establish and grow their careers. Gary Vaughan, coordinator and lecturer in Lawrence’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, accompanied six Lawrentians to the conference this year: Entenza-Sierra, along with Sidney Short, Nathaniel Smith, Tatiana Johnson, Sandesh Joshi, and Tomi Oladunjoye. Students had the opportunity to learn from and network with fellow creative entrepreneurs.

“The SEA conference really made me see that I could be an artist and not have to worry about not having a decent standard of living,” Entenza-Sierra said. “We have this stereotype of the broke, starving artist…actually seeing and meeting people who do art on the daily and are making a decent living really shifted my perspective.”

The highlight of the conference was a pitch contest, where attendees presented their projects to an audience without using a slideshow or other visual aids. Four winners were awarded $250 to put toward their pitched project. Entenza-Sierra put together a presentation that highlighted the purpose and importance of her exhibit—an art project featuring portraits of people at Lawrence or in Appleton and portraits of residents of Sierra Leone.

“I’m going to practice in public not only how to describe my project but also feel out what other people think about the project,” she said.

Entenza-Sierra’s Senior Experience is an independent project that encapsulates her time at Lawrence, putting an emphasis on the liberal arts approach to learning. In addition to her global studies and studio art majors, Entenza-Sierra’s project uses aspects of her Spanish minor and Innovation and Entrepreneurship focus.

During your senior year, you will embark on an independent project that reflects your values and interests, and draws on what you have learned. 

“Marifé’s passion for the project shone through the energy she displayed on stage,” said Vaughan. “I believe Marifé’s pitch was the best that day and that is why she was one of the students awarded funds to complete her project.”

Entenza-Sierra will use the prize money to purchase quality supplies for her portrait project, which is already under way.

Her Senior Experience project, Neither Here nor There: The Known and the Unknown, is a comparative portrait series that will feature members of the Appleton community alongside citizens of Sierra Leone. Having traveled to the West African country with KidsGive for a humanitarian relief project, Entenza-Sierra was excited to return in December for her capstone work.

The first half of the portraits feature Lawrence students, faculty, and employees here in Appleton. She traveled to Sierra Leone for 10 days during winter break, where she explored Freetown, Bo, and Mattru Jong and found subjects for the second half of the exhibit’s paintings. Entenza-Sierra seeks to reflect the lifetimes of people in her portraits by taking the time to speak with her subjects.     

“People are important to talk to, people are important to get to know,” said Entenza-Sierra. “You never know how that will circle back to you.”

Entenza-Sierra wants to shine a light on the lives of Sierra Leoneans, both personal and political. She hopes her exhibit will encourage viewers to learn more about the frequently overshadowed socio-political strife in Sierra Leone. The exhibit aims to diversify its viewers' perspectives by exposing people to new faces, cultures, and ideas. Entenza-Sierra plans to display each community’s portraits on opposite sides of the exhibit and allow people to question and evaluate the separation between Appleton and Sierra Leone.  

Entenza-Sierra has carefully considered every aspect of her capstone, all the way down to the medium itself. The acrylic paint she is using will not only dry quicker, making it easier to capture details live, but is also independent from the dark and often oppressive history of oil paint. Entenza-Sierra wants to show the Lawrence-Appleton community unfamiliar faces of the lively and relatively unknown country of Sierra Leone. Neither Here nor There: The Known and the Unknown will be presented in the Wriston Art Center this spring.

Entenza-Sierra said she plans to attend graduate school for her Master of Fine Arts or a doctorate in Middle Eastern studies. Regardless of her path, she plans to bring her love of art with her.

Marifé Entenza-Sierra

Class Year: 2023

Major: Global Studies and Studio Art

Hometown: Guaynabo, Puerto Rico

Activities: Art, entrepreneurship