The other day I met a guy named Renato that gets along with everyone. He works in a studio space of grafitti artwork that happened to catch our eye as we were passing, but he’s a music producer. Though he comes from the street, he knows how to do business and has a lot of connections to all sorts of people doing well in the art world. So he’ll often be the guy to talk to if neighbors need a lawyer or an opportunity. He talked about times when, crazy enough, he used to be a mediator for drug trafficking groups, and was even able to get a few people employed and out of a life of crime. Those are moments he’s proud of. But he says in the end everyone makes their choice, and he chose music.
Being that he helps out some of his buddies doing well, say by promoting their affordable restaurant, he often finds himself helping his other buddies that are not doing so well. He sometimes will bring in a homeless person, “reaking from the street!” as he described it, for a meal with other well-to-do people. Everyone looks at him funny but they all like him. But he says he had a point where he decided he didn’t need his stuff anymore and decided to give it all away–his nice clothes and electronics, stuff like that. It was a big change for him. He wonders if he’s going crazy sometimes but he admits he does feel happy this way.
The mission in his studio now is to teach kids who don’t have access to opportunities about grafitti, rap, and art. He says these kids grow up with nothing but a struggle around thieves, drug traffickers, and cocaine. With nothing else to rely on, these armed men become heroes to them. He wants to be able to show these kids how real these expressive arts can be for them, so they can look at their choices and say ‘Oh, that’s cool’ and look at the other stuff and know ‘that’s death’.
When I told Renato what I’m up to, he said having a course about paisagismo (Landscape Architecture) would be really cool to have for kids too, and that we should think about his studio in the future. He has since offered to walk with us in the places he knows on our trip, to give us some extra comfort when he’s available. And he convinced me to keep my kind and respectful curiosity, which can get anyone to pry right open. So I will.