Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”
Edition 04 — Fabiola Moquete
“I would’ve been flavorless french fries.”
If there are any words to describe what Boston native Fabiola Moquete might have been without her Artists For Humanity (AFH) experience, it would be those. A 2011 graduate of the Boston Arts Academy, Moquete was already well versed in the art-making process when she learned about AFH. Still, she jumped at the opportunity of employment in the arts and arrived at AFH with a specific goal in mind.
“I wanted to learn how to paint,” she said, recalling how—despite going to an art-centric school—there was little time to focus on painting itself and, instead, she was expected to switch between a variety of mediums. “It wasn’t enough for me. I knew I wanted to reach my goal and that this was the spot.”
Moquete first learned of of AFH through a friend from high school, and despite knowing very little about the program, she found herself motivated and intrigued by the unique space that AFH provides for those who are both new to and already involved in the arts. Her initial interview was with Jason Talbot, Co-Founder and Special Projects Director at AFH. Jason, who often goes by his graffiti tag, SWAT (Simultaneously Witnessing All Things), made a lasting impact on Moquete on her very first day.
“I was like okay, I’ll go check it out. It was weird because when I came [to the studio] it wasn’t like an interview. I brought my portfolio, I brought everything, and SWAT took a look at it and said: ‘Okay, you can start coming in.’ I didn’t even know about Open Studios or that anything like that existed. It’s hard to believe, if you think about it, especially with the process that teens have to go through now [that the program has grown].”
While her introduction to AFH was an uncommon one, settling into the lively, loud, and often packed Painting Studio at the AFH EpiCenter proved to be an easy transition. Moquete’s daily journey from a school heavily focused on the arts to a similarly arts-based employment opportunity was an experience that demonstrated the versatile role that AFH has played in the lives of teens across Greater Boston.
Moquete’s first day at AFH is not something that she remembers with exact clarity, but it is a day that left a lasting impression.
“I remember feeling like it was a different bubble. Once you come in, your mind is somewhere else — in a positive way. I always felt good staying here. It felt like a studio, it didn’t feel like school. Even though it was the same thing as my school in terms of doing art, the atmosphere was different.”
Moquete found points of drive and discipline at AFH, particularly around her goal of improving her painting skills. She cites Co-Founder/ Director of the Painting Studio and Programming Rob Gibb’s presence in the Studio as one such key point of motivation.
“I remember I was trying to be in the cool group, which was Rob’s group,” she recalls with a laugh. “He used to make all these really cool assignments for his group and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I wish I was there.’ I tried so hard to step up my skills so I could be considered for that really high level group.”
Even with this drive towards success, to Moquete, working at AFH was never a competition against the other teens. Instead, she saw it as a learning opportunity that kept her concentrated within the painting studio and helped her master her skill.
“I just focused on me and I tried to learn as much as I could from everyone because everyone has at least one thing to teach you. I tried to see the positive of what people could teach me. I really enjoyed myself and there was always something new to learn about painting.”
Of all the projects Moquete completed while at AFH, two stand out to her the most. The first, a mural at Field’s Corner Station in Dorchester for Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), is special to her for the professional aspect. “I remember that I had to go to the presentation to get their approval for the mural, which was an awesome experience,” she remembers. Speaking to clients and seeking approval is an integral part of the AFH model, giving teens real life business experience to go hand in hand with the art making component of the program.
The second project, quite the opposite of the Field’s Corner Station mural, remains in Moquete’s memory as a unique creative opportunity. “It was for an art based client. There was a long canvas from the garage door of the [AFH] gallery to the end of the room. The client brought sand from the beach and big buckets of paint and said ‘just do whatever you want.’ We did these big gestures and she loved it. It was the weirdest thing but it was so fun and came out beautifully.”
This freedom of creative expression and artistic commitment is one reason why Moquete values her time at AFH. The program treats their teens as adults and acts as a positive and grounding force in their lives. She cites this as an example of the impact that AFH has on high school communities in regards to youth development.
“AFH taught us how to focus on the positive. Because you’re focusing on positive things, you’re not associated with violence or slacking in school. You have to have a certain grade to stay here and there are so many opportunities to learn. I think that the teens understand that and they appreciate it. That’s why they keep coming back. They’re treated like adults.”
For Moquete, that positive responsibility manifested itself in what is one of her proudest moments while a teen at AFH. AFH’s youth development model focuses on providing teens with leadership roles, something that Moquete found particularly effective in learning professional skills. Having been selected to accompany Susan Rodgerson, Founder and Executive/Artistic Director of AFH, to defend a grant proposal, Moquete remembers the experience as daunting but rewarding.
“It was a proposal to win a grant for a million dollars and we were competing up against different programs. We wanted the funds so we could help other kids get paid jobs at AFH over the summer,” she said, explaining how she was selected to appeal to the Board of Directors for the fund about why AFH should receive the grant. “We ended up getting the grant!” I remember Susan was calling my phone and I was on the T, so I didn’t have any service. She had left me a voicemail saying ‘Fabi, call me.’ When I called, she said ‘We got the grant, we got the grant!’
“That was my proudest moment because I felt like I was a part of something bigger, to help the future and current high school students.”
This networking and push for leadership roles among the teens served as a base for Moquete to build on after her time at AFH. While Moquete was already receiving training in the arts at the BAA, AFH filled the gap by providing skills taught outside of the classroom. “AFH helped me with time management, communication, listening to people’s constructive feedback, just being honest with yourself and others, and being respectful of people’s time. It was less the design side and more the values and skills. A lot of networking and client-face meetings helped me a lot.”
After she graduated from the BAA, Moquete went on to attend college at Wentworth Institute of Technology for four years, where she earned her Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc) and was active in student groups including the Women’s Institute for Leadership Development and the Student Association of Interior Design. Into post graduate life, AFH’s impact lingers.
“After I graduated college, It took me two months to find a full time job. I felt like I was drowning, I felt like my life was over. I interned at three places but didn’t want to work there. I felt that as the days were going by, it was going to get harder. At the time, people weren’t looking to hire. Then I had a job working at Unispace, a design-build firm. This means that the architect, interiors, and construction people are in-house. Everyone works together and it’s not a typical delivery method for a project. That was my first job experience and I loved it.”
“It reminded me a lot of AFH in terms of how everyone communicated with one another and helped one another, which is why I fell in love with that place.”
A large part of Moquete’s journey with AFH was about finding a separate place of inspiration and innovation, which she eventually found in spades. While Moquete always had an interest and passion for the arts, AFH is that special something that provided her with additional motivation, life skills, and a community that contributed to who she is today.
Interviewed and written by Grace Yuh and Jane Elmets.