SCHENECTADY — The rainbow colors of the Pride Arches in Gateway Plaza have been expanded to represent people of color.
Schenectady artist Rae’ Frasier this week added black and shades of brown to the display, which stands in recognition of the LGBTQ community, the struggles they’ve faced, and their triumphs over discrimination and marginalization.
“This ties into the Black Lives Matter movement, meaning all Black lives matter, transgendered lives, gay Black lives, it’s super-inclusive,” Frasier said Thursday as she worked on-site.
On one leg of the red arch commemorating the Stonewall Riots, a flashpoint in the modern gay rights movement, Frasier added three words: Black Live Matter.
Schenectady Pride commissioned the change to show its support for the struggles of the Black community.
Frasier likes that the arches are in such a visible location, right at the gateway to the city and next to the bus stop.
“Sometimes it’s difficult for people to listen to words and I think that’s where powerful art is a substitute,” Frasier said.
“Even if you don’t understand it you see the message — Black Lives Matter.”
Frasier’s fiancee, Rosa Rivera, wrote the message that will be posted with the revised archway. It reads in part: “Most importantly, the BLM Movement is a commitment that all people can support by taking intentional and informed actions starting at the dinner table to the white house, to create BIG changes for the preservation of life, sanctity, health, and love for Black people.”
Frasier, 33, took to art relatively late in life and is self-taught. Her full-time job is engagement specialist at the Schenectady City School District. She’s also assistant varsity girls basketball coach at Schenectady High, a board member at Miracle on Craig Street (the former Carver Community Center) and she recently launched Art Money, a product line featuring her artwork.
Frasier has created large-scale art, including an entire exterior wall at Miracle on Craig Street, and worked on the small scale, including clothing and hats.
She wants to create art in neighborhoods that aren’t majority-minority, because “Black Lives Matter” is a message already familiar to Black neighborhoods.
“Those are things we already know,” Frasier said. “This is for people that may not know. You want to stick that message in areas that are not so diverse.”
She aims for a delicate balance she knows she won’t achieve with every viewer: direct but not destructive, thought-provoking and uncomfortable but not offensive.
“In order to evoke change, you have to start talking about uncomfortable truths,” Frasier said.
She didn’t include the infamous, heart-breaking words “I can’t breathe” on the Pride Arches — there’s no room for them. But she has used those words in other work, because they are real — the actual last words of Black men methodically killed by police.
As a Black woman and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Frasier has felt targeted by police and faced many episodes of discrimination, both for the color of her skin and for her sexuality.
“Lots of discrimination in terms of how I look and how I dress and how I present,” she said. “I’ve been told to act more like a lady, and I respond with, ‘This is exactly how a lady is supposed to act.
“The interesting thing is, those experiences have made me into the super-confident person I am.”
Many of Frasier’s works include the recurring image of a wounded heart, stitched and bandaged but still alive and vibrant. It is the focal point of the new mural at Miracle of Craig Street and is also her sub-logo for Art Money — it’s a representation of perseverance overcoming obstacles and love winning the battle.
Frasier has shaped her life in the same way: She organizes Schenectady’s community and police basketball league to increase trust and understanding, while her role with the school district is to bridge gaps between the community and the schools their children attend.
Her paintings have a similar theme and goal.
“The artwork is not to start chaos, it’s to be informative, it’s to be educational,” Frasier said.
It’s important for someone who hasn’t been subject to hate or violence or discrimination to understand what it means, she explained, and to be part of the effort to end it.
“It’s empowering — someone who is not experiencing the same things as you but is standing alongside you saying, ‘This is not right and I’m with you.’”