A Conversation with Artist Rae Senarighi

Rae Senarighi is a Madison-based artist who received GSAFE’s 2021 Judi Devereux Community Activist award and has designed our brand new, beautiful PUBLIC SCHOOLS UNITE US graphic.

We asked Rae some questions about his work, what inspires him, and how this beautiful piece of art can help us unite our communities around public education.

Tell us a little about yourself and your vision as an artist.
I’ve been an artist my whole life, learning first from my self-taught mother, and then from art teachers and professors throughout my schooling, culminating in my BFAs degree in Graphic Design in 2009. Art has been the one constant in my life, even as other interests have come and gone. Art has always been the way I can express myself fully. Art keeps me going. I’ve long been motivated to use my art to uplift my community and to do something good with my talents. My vision as an artist is to uplift and celebrate people in my community and to do the most that I can with the talents that I have to push the world forward when it comes to civil rights, human rights and justice. 

What inspired you to take on this project? What does “public schools unite us” mean to you?
Growing up I attended a private Christian school for most of my childhood, transferring to public school for only my Junior and Senior year in high school. Having the ability to transfer to public school was incredibly impactful for me. I was suddenly surrounded by people who were different from me and I remember distinctly how that opened my eyes and my mind to understanding that differences were not inherently bad, but could in fact be celebrated. 
Public schools are so important because they bring people together and allow for the mixing of ideas and cultures. Everyone deserves to have a good education, and public schools help provide access to that. When I heard about this project, I was inspired because I do truly believe that public schools unite us. And I believe whole-heartedly in public education, so this felt like a project that I could pour my creativity into in a meaningful way.

How, if at all, does the PUBLIC SCHOOLS UNITE US message relate to other campaigns you have worked on (with GSAFE/Fair Wisconsin or otherwise), or to your work more generally?
Since surviving cancer in 2015, I have been very focused on creating art that did more than just make money. Prior to that diagnosis, I had been really focused on art as a career. But surviving a brush with death gave me the perspective that I have to make the art that I care about. This has lead me to create artwork that I’m truly proud of and that has allowed my career to blossom so much more fully, oddly enough. Once I began creating art that was central to who I am and what is important to me, projects that are similar have come flooding my way. This is in alignment with the work that I like to do, which is focused on community and making the world a more just and equitable place for all. 

What concerns do you have for Wisconsin’s public school students?
As a parent of young children, I am definitely interested in the public school system in a new way. I want our children to get a great education and I am worried about underfunding in schools and the amount of stress that public school teachers are under, including not being paid nearly as well as they should be. 

What gives you hope?I receive hope from looking at those who are doing the work, those folks who are on the ground, fighting to create a better world. Whether that be folks like FairWisconsin and GSafe, who are working to protect LGBTQ+ students in schools, or the lawyers who are fighting for justice in the courts, or the parents who are speaking out at a rally. I’m inspired by community members who are doing what they can to help. That’s what gives me hope and it’s what I want folks who feel helpless or hopeless to do. Just take some small step to do what you can do to help. For me, that’s creating art. For someone else, that might be showing up to testify at a hearing. For someone else, maybe it’s volunteering. When things feel down and hopeless, it really helps to take action, even if it’s in just a small way. 

About the author: Wisconsin Public Education Network

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