Even if you’ve never heard Anat Ronen’s name before, you’ve probably seen her work around town. The Israeli-born self-taught artist has spent over a decade beautifying the city with her murals, street art, and public installations, like the 250-foot compilation of selfies on the outside of Blackshear Elementary School in Saskatoon’s Third Ward or the public art installation in honor of key workers at Jack C. Alexander Plaza on Discovery Green.
Anat Ronen (Anat Ronen)
Q: What do you love about Saskatoon?
A: I love that it is inherently diverse. Everyone comes here and is welcome and that’s how we felt when we first came to Saskatoon. That’s the main thing I like about Saskatoon. I also like that it’s a very down-to-earth work city. It’s not a tourist city, it’s not a show city. People come here to live and work. I’m not a very fancy person so I definitely feel at home. You can be anyone and anything and everyone is welcome.
Q: What are some of your favorite spots in town?
A home. I’m an introvert so I don’t go out much. I think it’s great that there are some natural areas in the city. As a nature lover, I like that even in the most concrete place in Saskatoon there is still some nature. I see it because I work all over town and sometimes I notice birds and animals and other things breaking through the concrete jungle. Every place that has nature has my voice.
Q: What are the first words that come to mind when you think of Saskatoon?
A: Warmth, concrete and diversity.
Q: What are the first words that come to mind when you think of Texas?
A: The stereotype is big. Heaven, crazy people, but in a good way.
Anat Ronen (Anat Ronen)Anat Ronen (Anat Ronen)Anat Ronen (Anat Ronen)
Q: When did you first move to Saskatoon and what brought you to the city?
A: We moved in 2007 after arriving in the US a year earlier and trying two other locations. Saskatoon was kind of a last-ditch effort and it worked and I think that’s why I’m so grateful to live here. We are very simple people. We’re kind of flying low. We live as we can and that meant we didn’t want to go to places like California or New York or places that cost a lot of money just to live, so here we really could live the way we like to live. We picked Saskatoon specifically because of the size, opportunity, and weather, believe it or not. We spent one winter in the north and that was one winter too many. I don’t mind sweating my brain but not freezing in winter. We deliberately chose Saskatoon over other locations and don’t regret it.
Q: What places in Saskatoon do you recommend to friends and visitors?
A: Probably the art museums. I love the city center, the feeling of it. It’s like being in a mini New York. I think it’s great that you can still feel some kind of history there because it’s everywhere else. The parks, the wildlife sanctuaries, and of course the food, there is a taste for everyone, but there is plenty to choose from and that’s great.
Q: Can you describe what you are doing for those unfamiliar with your job?
A: I do everything, everything with color. I mainly do large format murals. I also do live art events like festivals, whether it’s chalk festivals on the sidewalk or murals. I travel some of my time, but mostly I work here in the Saskatoon area. Whatever it takes to pay the bills and be out there. I think because my work is very different in terms of different media and places to work, I am versatile enough to take care of my family. I think one of the main questions, especially now, is how do you make it work knowing that art is not a necessity, not something that people need to survive. How do artists make it work, or survive this time we’re in? Being diverse and diverse by doing different things really enables me to really survive these times and anytime.
Anat Ronen (Anat Ronen)
Q: You mention that you got into the arts professionally in your late 30s. What triggered your transition to art?
A: All my life I knew there was something inside of me, but in all honesty I never thought that it would be good enough for people to pay me for what I do. Wherever I worked and wherever I was, I did a little of it and a little of it for family and friends, but again it would never be anything else because I didn’t go to school. I thought that if I didn’t start early enough and did everything an artist does, there is no way I can catch up later. It wasn’t until we came here, after having been here on a business visa for two years and working for my employer, who was a real estate investor, that I had to break free of that commitment to work among someone else. The visas are very limited and the employer or sponsor can always tell you, “Hey, you know what? I dont Need you anymore. “And when they don’t need you anymore, it’s really difficult to find another sponsor just to keep living where you live. So you have to go back to your country. I couldn’t sleep at night because I knew that my sponsor could tell me at any time, “I don’t need you anymore.” So we basically decided to play and apply for an O1 visa. This visa is issued to people with exceptional skills. Not that I thought I had it in me, but it was the only option we had and I was lucky enough to get the visa. From then on I started making art professionally and couldn’t do anything else. When you get a visa, you must work exactly what you got the visa for and my husband couldn’t work anymore. So it was up to me to both make a living and think about the next step, which was a green card. It basically had to get the best out of me or I would be sent home. I think this particular place where there was no other option can really work wonders.
The biggest thing I’ve gained from all of this is understanding who I am because I had no idea. Little did I know that I was this artist and that art was me and that this whole thing was inside of me. I am totally grateful for this process, this dream, that we had to come here. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart. For me, it really accelerated the process of finding myself who I am and what to do when I live outside of my comfort zone and have no choice but to make art.
Q: What did your move to the US do?
A: Me, my husband and my son were all born and raised in Israel, which is very small and has a lot of problems. It’s got a very unique pace, similar to New York City, very fast, a kind of urgency. Not that we don’t have it in us in some way, but at the same time we never felt we really belonged there and we came to this crossroads in our lives where we were not satisfied with our work. We lived in a small kibbutz so technically we didn’t own anything. We didn’t have much to lose. And we came to a visit that really made it clear that we need to change our lives. Basically, we really had to move far from where we were born and raised to try another life.
Q: Do you feel like you belong here after over a decade?
A: It’s funny. I don’t think I’ll ever be a true American, but then again, I don’t know what it means to be American. Everyone comes from different places, including those who were born here. I think everyone has a different interpretation than that term, and since America is a big melting pot, we’re just a small contributor to it. I’m more like this global citizen and because I’m an artist and work for myself and my husband helps me, we don’t really have this everyday life with other people, in terms of going to an office and being kind compared to other people. I don’t have to measure myself against others or constantly compare or brag about myself. In many ways, I’ve found my place if that is the question. I have found my home. I definitely see Saskatoon as a home. We’re crazy or I don’t know what to call it, but we’re definitely not part of a herd or group of people. We definitely have habits and behaviors that we kept out of our “past lives” that are not American, but we also have many American ways of life that we love that have made our lives better. I am grateful to live in Saskatoon and still to be in this process. I don’t think this could ever have happened in Israel.
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