Nov 15, 2016

How Brandon realized that "art is my way of talking"

by: Brandon from Restorative Practices Youth

When I got locked up, I was on my way home. Two of us were waiting for the train, and while we were standing there, these cops came up. Somebody got robbed while waiting under the train, and we fit the description. They took us to the hospital to get us identified. They already put the kid under a bunch of drugs and he got beat up pretty bad, so one of his eyes were swollen and he couldn’t really get a good look, but he identified me and my friend and we got locked up with some other boy, but we never saw him a day in our life. I couldn’t really get that mad. I was upset, but, I wasn’t that mad, cause, I just looked at it as, I could do this time for all the crimes that I committed and didn’t get caught for. That’s what kept me so positive.

At St. Gabe’s, we did almost the same thing every day. We watched TV so much we started reruns of the same show about 6-7 times. Everything was so structured. But when Miss Ellissa came around it was something different. When I was in art class, we just went with the flow. It was relaxing, calm, people were humble. I liked art before, but I didn’t really think about it as an outlet. So when I first started helping Miss Ellissa on murals I was just doing it to pass time, but I started enjoying it, and that’s when I started making it an everyday thing.

Photo by Steve Weinik.

People relate to different things. Some people relate to actions, some people relate to art, some people relate to music. But art is my way of talking back to the streets. If you make a piece of art, and it doesn’t speak to people, but it speaks to you, that’s an accomplishment for you. But at the same time, it’s not about you, it’s about what other people feel, how other people look at things. Sometimes it’s good for you, if you’re going through something personal, it’s good for you to take the item and work on something for yourself. But if you want to be known when it comes to art, you have to speak to other people, not just yourself.

When you’re doing a mural, it’s not about the end result. The real problem is, the steps you have to take to the end result. Time management is a big part of that. Once I learned time management with art, I relate time management to everything. There were times we had to work on a mural, and if you’re not where you’re supposed to be you have to work overtime, put in the extra hours, just off the strength that you gotta get that done. That’s a responsibility—you said you were gonna do a task, so you have to do what you said you’d do. You gotta know what your team members’ tasks are, while at the same time knowing what yours are. If your team member is slacking, you gotta be able to acknowledge, I’m on point with this, but he needs help with his task. It’s not just individual effort—you have to know what’s going on with the overall canvas. It’s all about teamwork and time management.

Untitled youth-designed mural at St. Gabe's. Photo by Steve Weinik.

My favorite project with Miss Ellissa was the Alpha Fraternity mural, and another youth designed mural at St. Gabe’s. My teacher, JT, let everybody pick one symbol that relates to us, and my symbol was strength. I was going through a troubled time and the only thing I could do was stay strong. Not just for me, but for my family, for the people that supported me, for the people that couldn’t be strong. So I just had to lead them, show them that I was strong and that it was possible for other people to be strong. I’ve learned it’s not about how you fall, it’s about how you bounce back from your fall.

I look at working with Mural Arts as a coping skill. Instead of me being outside with the wrong crowd, I just call JT, see if he needs help with any murals, any projects. And if he does then I help him with no problem. I just enjoy spending time with him, I know he’s a positive role model. He came from the same neighborhood, but he didn’t let the neighborhood take effect on him. And I know if he can do it, then why can’t I?

Summer Kaleidoscope © 2015 Mural Arts Philadelphia / Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn. Eakins Oval. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Working with Mural Arts, I saw my real potential, and I just want to do something productive, something that’s gonna have an effect.

- Brandon

In the next few years, I want to go back to school, trade school probably, and take up something like dental assistance, engineering, or architecture. Working with Mural Arts, I saw my real potential, and I just want to do something productive, something that’s gonna have an effect. When I have great grandkids or something, I can take them on a tour and be like: I designed that building or I helped build that, I put that mural there. Something to prove that my presence was here. I want to have something good to show in the future.


Brandon’s work can be seen around the city in projects like Summer Kaleidoscope, Heavy Blankets, and the Philly DJ Mural

Last updated: Apr 6, 2018

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