Serendipity Stage, Art

On Dec. 18, UW–Madison will celebrate its Winter 2022 Commencement. We reached out to a few of our students who are graduating from programs in the School of Education to learn about their favorite UW–Madison memories and future plans. Following is a Q&A with Serendipity Stage, who is graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree in art.

Serendipity SwanstromWhere are you from, and what brought you to UW–Madison? 

I grew up in a small town called St. Croix Falls in Northwest Wisconsin. I knew I wanted to attend a university that is in-state, but I also wanted it to be somewhere I’d have the freedom to explore a larger source of culture — art, music, academia, all of it. I also was unsure whether I wanted to become an art therapist or English teacher, and knew that Madison would have the resources to support my journey in either direction, or any new one I’d find along the way.

How did you choose your major? 

I am graduating with a bachelor of fine arts, emphasizing painting and 4D art. I’ve also completed a dance/movement therapy certificate. 

It was a bit of a journey arriving at my current area of study. I initially enrolled as an English major due to my love of creative writing — an art form I still practice and incorporate into my works today. Yet my involvement in The Studio resident learning community as a freshman opened my eyes to my passion for working with the arts in a different way. I explored the idea of working with museums, getting a part-time job at the Chazen Museum of Art as an education programs assistant to kind of check that vibe out. I found that I crave the most working with people and their own creative potential. I ended up dropping my art history certificate — as inspiring as it was — and discovering a small program in the Dance Department I’d never heard of before: Dance/Movement Therapy. The combination of these two realms of study has defined the art I create now and the impact I desire within greater communities. 

What was your most meaningful experience at UW–Madison? 

The largest project I took on during my time here was inspired by a class assignment in my sculpture course with Tamsie Ringler. We were assigned to create a “social sculpture,” considering space and people as elements to be constructed and composed together. I combined this concept with my hand-poked tattoo practice for “Sculpting Skin and Spirit,” a day-long process piece that involved tattooing three different people who brought to me three words representing an intention for self-change. We created their symbolic tattoo the day of, discussing their history and visual lexicon developed throughout their unique life stories. In exchange, instead of money they gave me something they felt was of equal value to the tattoo and the change they wished to incite. This concept became part of a larger, longer-term project I did titled “Skin Deep(er): An Intentional ExChange,” where I used that same practice with a new person every month on the New Moon for one year, starting with myself and ending with my mother. The project itself defined so much of my musings over the course of that year, and it was such a special thing to be able to put together some key aspects of the project and display them in my first solo exhibition in the Class of 1925 Gallery in Memorial Union. 

"I initially enrolled as an English major due to my love of creative writing — an art form I still practice and incorporate into my works today. Yet my involvement in The Studio resident learning community as a freshman opened my eyes to my passion for working with the arts in a different way."

What class or professor had the greatest impact on you, and why?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a wealth of knowledgeable professors and lecturers during my time here. By far the most influential figure to me has been my dance/movement therapy instructor, Rena Kornblum. She taught almost all of my courses in the certificate, which I took alongside my dear friend Violet, with whom I was able to process all that we were learning in such an experiential manner that informed my practice on a very embodied level. I felt that everything I learned from Rena has directly translated to my life and the people’s lives around me. She’s helped me question the nature of what modern therapeutic practice can be, referencing important figures throughout history (mostly women, mostly artists) who are outside of the common psychological canon. 

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started at UW–Madison? 

I wish I had known how much agency I had over my undergraduate experience. I took a semester of French because I thought I needed that for my major and felt compelled to work through the nitty gritty requirements as soon as possible. Later on, I changed my major, which involved different requirements. Instead of spending that time in a course that didn’t work quite the best for my language development, I could have spent another semester deepening an artistic passion. There are so many ways to occupy your time in college, especially at UW. There exists what feels, at times, to be an overwhelming number of clubs, classes, and communities to dive deeper into. If your heart isn’t in it, let it go right then and there. Once I learned that, everything gave way to a relieving sense of passion and purpose.  

What’s next for you? What are your plans for the future? ‘

I have a few concepts upcoming that I’m excited to see how they pan out. I’m going to be working for a few months after graduation, saving up enough money to hike the Appalachian Trail next spring. I hope to not only experience a special place in which to honor my transition out of undergraduate life into a new stage of adulthood, but to conduct my own personal research on the mental transformations that occur when one embarks on a journey so steeped in the rhythms of the natural world. This ties in with my graduate school aspirations — namely, attending Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, for an MA in clinical mental health counseling, emphasizing in transpersonal wilderness therapy.

You’re a UW–Madison expert now. What’s one thing every Badger should experience before they graduate?

The music scene. Go to as many free concerts as possible: at the Terrace, the Sett, the Rath. Keep an eye out on the other venues in Madison. I’ve been so fortunate to see so many incredible artists during my four and a half years here. There’s something out there for you, if you go looking. And if that “thing” isn’t live music, put your whole heart into finding what is.

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