Marya Spont-Lemus writes fiction and personal narratives, critically re-makes objects, and educates/facilitates/collaborates, often in public spaces.
As an educator, Marya has worked in various out-of-school-time and community settings, as well as in classrooms and museums. Whether with kindergarteners or adults, one-time interactions or long-term collaborations, Marya seeks to foster environments that are warm, affirming, nourishing, and broadly accessible, where activities serve as vehicles for participants to express their complex selves and act creatively toward their goals. As a teaching artist she is a facilitator, coach, and co-conspirator. Her practice is frequently geared toward guiding groups through collaborative endeavors—resulting in projects such as multimedia installations co-developed with teachers and students, a teen-curated exhibition of teen art, and an intergenerational oral history album—Marya values open-ended prompts that provide a framework but also flexibility, encouraging participants to identify the lines of inquiry they are most invested in critically and creatively.
Across her writing and connected practices, Marya believes that greater understanding of one’s own life, as well as each other’s, can raise consciousness and plant seeds toward social change. She seeks to offer accessible ways to unlock and unpack one’s own stories and experiences, and has facilitated creative writing workshops with such aims for a range of ages. Marya credits the deep, supportive relationships developed through informal writers’ groups as giving her confidence to invest in and share her own work. When not working on her first novel (in progress), Marya writes short fiction and personal essays (for print, performance, or display), and contributes to Sixty Inches From Center. Her writing frequently engages environmental concerns. In 2023, Marya will facilitate a group of Southwest Side adults through the process of devising a collaborative book of creative writings in response to local environmental justice issues.
As an interdisciplinary artist, Marya collaboratively develops platforms for public making and exchange, often incorporating creative reuse. With Andrés Lemus-Spont, she co-created ¡Anímate! Studio, which engages participants in playful re-imagining and re-making—hands-on exercises in critical pedagogy, prompting questions around values reflected in objects, the surrounding world, and oneself. Marya co-founded the Mobilize Creative Collaborative (with Andrés, Aquil Charlton, and William Estrada), which acts as an intergenerational platform for popular education, communal creation, and arts-based organizing. In 2021, the MCC received Friends of the Parks’ Activation Innovation Award, and as an individual artist Marya was a 3Arts Make a Wave grantee.
A 12-year resident of McKinley Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Marya volunteer-organizes with Neighbors for Environmental Justice. Recent efforts have also included Chicago Community Jail Support and MCAccountable. Marya is a white U.S. American of Polish, Irish, and Swedish descent. She has a BA in Cinema and Media Studies (University of Chicago) and an MA in Art Education (Community track; University of Texas-Austin). Trainings through Chicago Freedom School, among other experiences, have significantly informed her ongoing work toward building a just society, an intentionally anti-oppressive practice, and a less harmful life.
Years with Urban Gateways
Areas of Expertise
- Collaborative interdisciplinary projects
- Environmental Justice
- Socially situated projects (multimedia installations)
- Video/sound/mixed media
- Interdisciplinary literary work
- Creative Writing