Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli hopes to make Madison a better place through community art-making

"My message is that we can all find identity, belonging, unity and hope through art."
Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli inside of the bubbler
Photo by Amadou Kromah

I grew up in a Baltimore City rowhome, biracial (Filipino and white) with a first-generation Polish mother. Graffiti was my introduction to contemporary art and self-expression. Then, as a college student, I saw my first Jackson Pollock at a museum and felt a spark, a hushed awakening, like I’d never experienced before. Years later, I learned that what moved me was called abstract expressionism.

I believe my self-taught artistic style is influenced by these early exposures. My personal mixed-media abstract art on canvas or in art journals is often rough and a bit chaotic, but balanced with some order. A reflection of my childhood and how I see the world today.

Later on I obtained a Master of Arts in expressive arts therapy — not in fine arts. This was deliberate: More than I wanted to sell my own artwork, I wanted others to experience the joy, self-reflection and personal transformations that art-making can bring.

Art-making opportunities are everywhere, for all of us. Whether I’m engaging children at the library, working on community murals, encouraging spontaneous public art, wearing my art on my leggings or showing others how to create art journals like these pages with my book “Art Journal Your Archetypes,” my message is that we can all find identity, belonging, unity and hope through art.

Art for Neighborhood Identity

Gabrielle painting

Courtesy of Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli

When I’m not in my studio or working with The Bubbler, I work as a community artist with Dane Arts Mural Arts. When DAMA facilitates community paint days, such as the ones for the mural and railroad barriers near the Lakeside St. Coffee House, everyone involved can feel the power of art as a community unifier. The residents come together to transform an area into a colorful representation of their neighborhood. Projects like this are met with a great deal of enthusiasm and support.

Art for Finding Belonging

little kid working on a piece of art

Courtesy of Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli

As a child I dabbled with art only in the safety of my bedroom. Today, as one of six members of the inaugural Bubbler Artist Cohort at the Madison Public Library, I provide creative opportunities for youth ages 8 to 18 around the library initiative titled You(th) Belong. The program is about discovery and connections. I have witnessed pride, focus, stress relief and bliss from children and teens engaging with art materials and different techniques. Thus, we’re accomplishing the goal of reaching out to our youth and giving them safe, positive and free opportunities to thrive.

Art for Unity and Hope

Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli in front of the flamingo wings

Courtesy of Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli

One of the most powerful examples of community art I created was the 2018 “Flamingo Wings” installation on the side of the Wisconsin Historical Museum. The project was made possible by a Madison Arts Commission BLINK grant, with extra funds from Madison’s Central Business Improvement District. The #FlamingoWingsMadison installation included big wings for adults and smaller, lower wings for children or those using wheelchairs. During the year, locals and out-of-town visitors alike — students, grandparents, graduates, kids, teens, farmers’ market-goers and many more — interacted with this street art, which represents Madison’s official bird, the plastic flamingo. The result of this small investment of city funds was nothing but smiles. People sought it out and took selfies to share on social media. Memories were made while including Madison in conversations of public art. Art at this macro level gives a sense of community in the same way rooting for a local sports team does. Research has proven that the arts — visual, musical, literary, dance — add to local economies. We’re all here together. Let’s keep making our city a place people want to live in and visit. How? By investing in the arts. Engaging in arts programing. Buying local art and purchasing tickets to performances. “Art for change” translates to art for the betterment of our community and our lives.

Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli is a community artist with DAMA, an artist-in-residence at The Bubbler and the author of “Art Journal Your Archetypes: Mixed-Media Techniques for Finding Yourself.”