Melissa Carestia is an art enthusiast working to grow the Scranton arts community. A native of Leonardo, New Jersey, she graduated from Keystone College with a degree in visual art and concentrations in photography, print making and book arts, and she is pursuing a master’s degree in arts administration from Drexel University. She is employed by AFA Gallery, Scranton, and sits on the board of Scranton Fringe Festival. In her spare time, you most likely can find her baking, hiking or having fun at a dance party. She lives in Scranton with her boyfriend.

Meet Melissa Carestia…

Talk about your role at the AFA Gallery. 
I’m the gallery coordinator. I’m here part-time, and I’m the only employee. I work with artists who are exhibiting (and) manage volunteers. I’m the public face, and I talk to people. I do outreach and plan monthly rotating exhibitions as well. 

What made you so passionate about art?
When I was a kid, I would always steal my parents’ camera and take pictures around the house. From there it spiraled. In high school, I was the kid who always had a disposable camera. It was something that I knew I wanted to continue doing. When I was looking at colleges, it was a no-brainer I wanted to go for photography. After college when I was looking for jobs, I realized I didn’t want to be making art for people as a living. I would rather have my art in my own time, but I want to help other people who want to make a living with their art. I feel like getting into arts administration was finding my calling. I’m also starting to get into arts advocacy work. If I don’t pursue that as a full-time career, being an advocate is always going to be a hobby of mine.

What specifically do you advocate for in the arts?
Part of it is education to the public, lawmakers. … It’s to help show the importance of arts and what they can do for people. There are a lot of things with the new tax reform that affect artists, so (I can be) advocating to have those lawmakers make sure that people such as art teachers who buy their own supplies are able to write that off in their taxes. Whether it’s art in health, education or the economy, you can find something to advocate for.

What type of art do you enjoy doing most?
I love to go out and take photographs. Anything I can do with my hands, so crocheting (too). I was getting into making paper collages at one point, and that was very methodical. I love learning new skill sets because I think you can apply that knowledge to other things like problem-solving.

Who is your favorite artist?
Ansel Adams is hands-down my favorite photographer of all time. His work speaks so much and is so beautiful. He really captured the landscape of America and helped conserve it. I love his work. I love (Edgar) Degas. The way he captured light; he and other impressionists were really inspired by photography, and you can see that through their work. I’m also super-obsessed with Nan Goldin and her “Ballad of Sexual Dependency.” It was amazing to see her prints in person.

Why do you enjoy supporting local art?
People are making great stuff. Old masters and things like the Impressionists, those are beautiful images that mean so much. People who are working locally and trying to make a living by selling their artwork are doing great stuff, too. We have an ample amount of talent in this area, and a lot of them are selling stuff for really affordable prices. Art is an investment, and it’s valuable, but if you don’t love it, why have it? Some of my favorite work is done by my friends.

Are there any upcoming events we should look out for at the AFA Gallery?
This is AFA’s 30th-year anniversary. The organization was created in 1988. We have some plans in the works. Sept. 1, we’re going to have an anniversary party here, and it’s going to coincide with our Founders Exhibition. An exhibition on the first floor will highlight our founding members, and then on the second floor will be the friends and active volunteers, so it will be founders and friends. There is also something very special in the works for October, so stay tuned for that.

With First Friday coming up, what type of work will we see on display at the next exhibit?
(This) month is always my favorite. It’s the member show. Twice a year, (AFA) members can exhibit work with us. It’ll be opening May 4. It’s going to be a sampling of what is currently being made in NEPA. You’re going to be able to see all different mediums with all different themes. It’s really eclectic and nice. It’s nice to see what local people are doing. You have people who do traditional oil landscapes, but you also have people who do found-object sculpture. 

What is your involvement with the Scranton Fringe Festival?
I sit on their board of directors. I also run their visual fringe, which is the visual art portion of the festival, and I sit on the programming committee, and we put together the schedule. The Scranton Story Slam is part of the Fringe Festival, too. I’m not heavily involved with that, but we do good stuff. We’re having our first story slam on May 12 at the Scranton Cultural Center, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Have you had a moment in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
Getting that camera in my hand. I feel like if I didn’t do that when I was little, I don’t know what I’d be doing now. I had such an interest in image making and capturing moments that it has really spiraled into what my life is, and I love everything that I do, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There’s this one picture, I must be 5 or 6, and my parents have this really large mirror in their house, and it’s me taking a picture of myself. Retrospectively, it’s so artsy; it was just me and something to take a picture of in that moment.


To learn more about the AFA Gallery or become a member visit the AFA Gallery’s website