Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”

Edition 28 — Adrian Romero, Illustrator

Knowledge Is The Key

Adrian Romero didn’t have a drawing portfolio, so he rapped.

In 2012, Adrian Romero was searching for a summer job when he came across Artists For Humanity through the Boston Youth Fund.

“When I looked at the job listing it seemed like a very cool job to be paid to make art and get commissions too. I was like, ‘Shoot, why not? Why don’t I apply to see what’s up?’ even though I had no experience.”

He didn’t have a drawing portfolio. So, in an effort to highlight his creativity, he came up with the idea to perform a rap during his interview,

“I had this instrumental I was listening to on the way to the interview and just wrote along to it. I guess that worked because I got hired. I forget the rap but I remember it was the corniest thing ever.”

Although having a drawing portfolio is not a requirement for being hired, his unforgettable interview and his subsequent paintings showed Adrian possessed creativity — he just lacked an outlet for it. Adrian was surprised to discover his artistic interests, especially because his high school didn’t offer art classes.

Adrian’s art is heavily influenced by his love of music.

“In school, we just had basic classes. I hear a lot of people talking about how they had cooking and art. We didn’t have any of that stuff. The only thing which came remotely close was music theory, which was pretty cool.”

Adrian thought he would only work at AFH for the summer and commit to playing football when he returned to school. To his surprise, after a summer of working in the AFH Painting Studio, Adrian realized with certainty that he wanted to pursue his creative endeavors. With his newfound talent and creative ability, Adrian was able to bridge two of his passions — music and creativity.

Adrian was surprised to discover his creative side at AFH.
The first painting Adrian sold as an AFH teen employee.

Adrian’s fascination with music is evident in all his AFH paintings. He remembers how proud he was to sell his first one. The artwork was inspired by a song called “Check The Rhyme” by A Tribe Called Quest and depicts the lyric, If knowledge is the key then just show me the lock.” AFH unlocked new possibilities for Adrian.

Adrian fondly dubs AFH as one big family. “Sometimes we had more fun than painting, the job still got done though,” he jokes.

Today, Adrian visits the AFH regularly and is always greeted by those who remember him in a friendly and welcoming manner. He noted that Rob Gibbs, Co-founder and Painting Studio mentor, especially influenced his mindset at AFH and afterward,

“He’s like a big brother and a role model for a lot of people. It’s the way he carries himself. Rob would always say, ‘You get what you put in.’ That really resonated with me.”

Adrian with Rob Gibbs, AFH Co-Founder, and Painting Studio Mentor.

In Adrian’s last year at AFH, he was offered a teen leadership role in the hiring process for the next generation of AFH teen artists. He kept Rob’s advice in mind as he interviewed prospective teens, who were now in the very position Adrian found himself just a few years earlier.

“There was a whole set of questions we needed to ask them — What’s your name? School? How’d you find out about us? and so on. We would also ask if they had a portfolio to share. After the interviews, we then reviewed the responses as a team — the mentors and the teen leaders together.”

“Sting Like a Killa Bee”—a piece Adrian created for a Wu-Tand Clan art exhibit, 2015.

Though the hiring process seems rigorous, Adrian assures the most important qualification of an AFH teen artist is not whether or not they have a portfolio, or if it’s good, it’s their attitude towards learning and creating.

“I looked for open-minded kids who were really about making art.”

“Even though I came here thinking I was just doing a job, I hope today’s teens are engaged with what’s going on [right from the start]. I do see a lot of new kids who are killing it! I’m really surprised at what the kids are creating nowadays and can’t wait to see what’s next.”

”Untitled” 2018—Watercolor painting by Adrian Romero

Fresh out of college, Adrian has come a long way since first picking up the paintbrush at AFH. Adrian graduated from Lesley University in 2019 with a degree in illustration. His willingness to take chances and try new things has only grown stronger.

Adrian likes to experiment with new mediums, “I definitely like to try different things — filming, making clothes, sculpture, music, and acting. I’ve just wanted to be artistic ever since.

When asked about AFH’s 30th anniversary and where he sees the organization 30 years from now, Adrian responded,

“I would like to be in my 50s and still see AFH developing a community of young artists and designers in Boston, continuing to provide creative employment opportunities and an outlet for creative expression.”

Photos of Adrian’s artwork are courtesy of Adrian Romero.

Written by Amy Chu.