Four Questions with Sara Coen Dash, Renaissance Woman
Generally we ask four questions of people who have one interesting project going on. Sara Coen Dash is a serial offender: first she organized a crafts auction for cancer research, in honor of her mother; then she took up crafting herself, starting her own greeting card business, Joy Ink Cards; and most recently, she’s started Dash of Green Consulting, a “green organizing” business. Despite all this, she still gets only four questions, so let’s get started.
Tell me about the arts and crafts auction you started for Hadassah Hospital.
About eight years ago my mom was in the final stages of a ten-year battle with breast cancer. Some Hadassah friends and I were looking for a way to bring together inter-generational women, the arts, and fundraising for women's cancer. Inspired by an event at The New Art Center called Icons and Altars, we chose a ticketed art auction format. For our event—which has become an annual tradition—a $36 ticket guarantees each ticket holder a handcrafted item with a minimum value of $36; items include jewelry, handbags, scarves, pottery, wall art, Judaica, stationery, pillows, mosaics and more. Ticket holders come to the event and browse all of the beautiful items, ranking their top choices. When a ticket holder's name is called, s/he gets to pick a favorite item from the remaining choices. The format provides a great chance to be social while also engaging in art browsing; plus, everyone walks away with something unique.
For that first year, we gathered over 50 items and a similar number of guests. My mom was able to attend, just a few months before she passed away. Over the years we have managed to increase our number of items to over 80 and our number of ticket holders to over 75! We have also added some other features: a pink ribbon board to honor and remember special women, a small silent auction, and lots of yummy donated treats. We have raised over $25,000 for women's cancer research at Hadassah Hospital so far, and we hope to do something extra-special with our 10th anniversary event in spring of 2013. My good friend and fellow Hadassah member, Leslie Gonzalez, has become my co-chair for the event, and her help and enthusiasm has been essential in keeping the momentum going.
And you’re a crafter? How long have you been making cards?
I started making cards as relaxation when I was in graduate school for teaching. I was inspired by the Paper Source in Cambridge! Once my daughter was born almost twelve years ago, I increasingly loved this creative outlet; I started making lots of cards after my daughter went to bed at night. My very first card sale was at my Great Aunt Freda's assisted living residence, and then I transitioned into selling at craft fairs and stores. I now create about a dozen custom invitations a year, and my cards have been (or still are) sold at places such as Whole Foods, Serenade Chocolates, Christine's Day Spa, Newton Open Studios and other craft fairs. I especially love working on invitations with customers because I get to participate in a small part of event planning and to create something that is one-of-a-kind.
What exactly is a “green organizer”? Is it intrinsically more difficult making these older Boston houses, full of lead paint and pipes, more eco-friendly?
I think that a "green organizer" is part of an evolving field that supports eco-friendly and healthy living. Green organizing describes part of what I do because I can help individuals pick out the non-toxic (or least toxic) items in their lives with an effort to shed the hazardous items. People can feel overwhelmed by all of the products available in today's market, and part of my role is to make the choices less complicated.
I gained some of my own experience through years of careful research after my mom was diagnosed with cancer almost twenty years ago. More recently, I spent a year trying to build the "greenest" house possible, and this research opened my eyes to the importance of choosing safe building and home decorating materials; there are huge discrepancies in the safety of everything from floor/paint finishes to insulation to cabinetry to carpets. The knowledge I gained from the house project built on what I had already learned about food, personal care items, cleaning supplies, sleep environments, kid play spaces and more.
If someone hires me as a consultant, we can focus on "green organizing" a small part of that person's life or home or we can tackle a bunch of areas together. Just as it is a huge relief to de-clutter with the help of a personal organizer, I think it is freeing to start making healthier choices.
Your different projects seems to touch on different facets of the DIY movement. What's one bit of advice you have for someone who might be thinking of turning a hobby or passion into a business?
My advice to someone else thinking of a DIY business is to go with the flow during the moments that feel like failures. I remember one of my first craft fairs when I started selling cards. I hired a babysitter, paid a table fee, and schlepped all of my cards and display items in the snow to a poorly-attended craft fair. I didn't even make enough sales to pay the babysitter, and I started questioning myself. However, a few weeks later I received a call from someone who had bought a Mazel Tov card at that same fair. She asked if I could turn the card imagery into a Bar Mitzvah invitation, and that invitation order inspired the custom invitations branch of Joy Ink. To top it off, a neighbor of that first invitation client owns Serenade Chocolates in Brookline and asked if she could bring my cards into her store. In many ways, that quiet craft fair was my most successful craft fair ever! I have since learned to enjoy each event with no expectations; if nothing else, I love interacting with other artisans and with people in general.
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Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!