Jun 3

Meet a Mural Arts Student: Giovanni

by: Carly Rapaport-Stein

It takes a moment for Giovanni to get comfortable in the Mural Arts conference room, where we’re meeting to chat about his experiences in the Restorative Justice Youth Program. His hair, which he’s growing out to honor the wishes of his sister, who passed away a few years ago, is covered with a red cap, and his t-shirt, featuring a mural that he helped create, is set off by a sparkling necklace and the tattoos that line his arms. People think all kinds of crazy things about him, he shares. “But then they talk to me and are like, “wow, you’re really intelligent.”

Photo by Steve Weinik.

At 18, Giovanni is a completely typical teenager in many ways – fascinated by cars, interested in superheroes, and curious about the world around him. But like many of the young people in his neighborhood, Giovanni’s life has been influenced by the violence that surrounds him – by the deaths of family and friends, the imprisonment of neighbors, family, and acquaintances. It creates a specific and finite worldview, one that shaped Giovanni as a child and young adult. As he was growing up, Giovanni saw a set future: “I’m no angel, I always knew I’d end up in prison. But I had to man up one day, and I’m trying to live a constant life. Going to prison was a big life lesson – you can learn from your mistakes.”

And since he’s exited the system, Giovanni has grown and blossomed through art. He met his teacher, JT Taylor, while he was in a school for youth on probation, and they clicked instantly during classes with Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice Youth. JT noticed Giovanni’s eye for detail, and was impressed by his focus and precision, assigning Giovanni to some of the most meticulous work on a mural by Shepard Fairey. Giovanni’s exact drawing filled out the stars at the top of the mural, and sketched in the fine lines surrounding the record player. Giovanni is so proud to be featured in the middle of Center City, beaming when he points out the imagery that he helped create.

Rhythm and Diversity by Shepard Fairey. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Programs like Restorative Justice Youth give students like Giovanni a way to express themselves in a creative, safe environment, and a pathway for students to imagine many possibilities for their future. Giovanni is inspired by many of the artists he’s studied, but most specifically by Leonardo da Vinci, whose breadth and depth as an artist-inventor speaks to Giovanni’s own investigative, entrepreneurial sensibilities. And while the art and ideas have highlighted incredible potential, for Giovanni, it’s also clearly illuminated systemic problems. Giovanni calls the number of students in prison “wasted potential,” visibly upset by the talent and the promise that he sees locked up.

Seeing that untapped talent stuck without an outlet, Giovanni doesn’t want to waste his own talent or time. He assists JT on small projects in different neighborhoods, often creating signs for area business owners or doing other artistic interventions. When people stop him and admire his work, they ask Giovanni where he’s been trained – and Giovanni takes obvious delight in the interest of the passersby.

It makes him feel like a rock star, getting all of that attention, but he’s decided he needs to get used to it. In the da Vinci model, he’s branching out and exploring the world through many artistic lenses. He’s writing his own music, working with his own label, and beyond excited to share his unique voice with the world. From a music career stems other ideas for the future: maybe he’ll create his own clothing line, a car business, or be a general in the military. The world is open with possibility, and Giovanni will investigate any and every opportunity to make his destiny his own. His father told him he could do anything he put his mind to, and Giovanni takes that advice seriously. He wants his grandkids and his great-great-great-great grandkids to know that he made it, that he did cool things, and that the imprint of his artistic voice will live on even when Giovanni isn’t there to tell the story himself.

You can help students like Giovanni grow by making a gift to Mural Arts today. Click here to donate now.

Last updated: Jun 7, 2016

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