RACINE — When Janet Arriaga was a girl growing up in Mexico, her family lived in a little town without electricity. She was not exposed to a lot of storytelling through television or movies.
However, there were advertisements — its own form of storytelling, which she found fascinating.
Arriaga wondered how the advertisements were made, but as a child did not think she would be able to create something so artistic.
The fourth installation of Wall Poems of Racine features the poetry of Adwoa Asentus, a painting by Dean Tawwater and an original art design by Arriaga.
The mural at 814 Memorial Drive is tough to miss with its vibrant blues and butterflies in flight.
“The mural design depicts movement, strength and resilience that is translated through a tree and monarch butterflies,” Arriaga explained.
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The butterflies in motion after metamorphosis are representative of the journey taken by people of color, she added. “I convey a message that is a combination from my experiences as a woman of color, my culture and the diversity of this country.”
Arriaga described her art as an idiom, providing “a language that translates feelings and ideas into designs, which communicates with the viewer through different media.”
Her work is a combination, she said, of graphic design and fine art, influenced by the Mexican culture, contemporary art and the experiences gained while traveling through Mexico, the United States and Italy.
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Arriaga’s journey from a small child who was interested in the art of storytelling in advertisements to graphic designer took her through the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
In her youth, she pursued drawing. She was more of a reader, but she did enjoy the creative arts — such as making her own cards for Valentine’s Day — so she wanted to explore creative options while in college.
Arriaga had not forgotten how as a little girl she wanted to learn more about how shapes and images could be projected into a story, so she began taking classes in graphic design and fine art.
However, by the time she began her education in earnest, she was married and raising two kids.
It was not always an easy journey. Arriaga tried to absorb all she could in classes while still taking care of her family. Sometimes her children would be working on their homework and she would be right there with them, completing her own homework.
She expressed how grateful she was for the support of her family and also her college professors, who helped keep her motivated when her confidence ebbed.
Arriaga is to be the first person in her family to graduate from college and everyone is very excited, she said, but her parents are especially proud.
She is set to graduate in December with a degree in graphic design with a concentration in fine arts, a minor in Spanish and a certificate for 3D printing.
Her parents left Mexico and immigrated to the United States so that their children could pursue educational opportunities that were not available to them where they lived. So, having Arriaga graduate from college is a big deal for the family.
Wall Poems of Racine is a project of ArtRoot, a committee of artists and arts advocates who are determined to reinvigorate Racine through the arts.
The project was inspired by the Wall Poems of Charlotte in North Carolina. Racine’s project focuses exclusively on the rich and diverse local community of poets. The murals combine both visual and literary art.
For each of the Wall Poems of Racine, a poetry selection committee made up of local writers selected several poetry excerpts from local poets and provided them to the UW-Parkside graphic design students.
Each student chooses an excerpt to incorporate into a design, which is then presented to a design review committee, who provides feedback to the students. The students then modify their designs based on the feedback and present them a second time to the committee.
The committee chooses one or two final designs based on the number of walls available that year.
Arriaga said when she read Asentus’s poem, she felt an immediate connection.
She said there were probably 20 other students who submitted designs, so she really did not think hers would be chosen.
When she learned her design had been chosen, there was a lot of crying.
“I’m still so emotional and excited,” she said. “I feel something of mine is attached to the city now. I feel more connected. I feel I’m leaving my footprint here in Racine.”
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