At the Intersection of Social Entrepreneurship and Public Art

Wednesday, April 10, 2024
Artist Francisco Garcia in his Grand Avenue studio.
Cover and Council Member page of National Council of Youth Leaders and Opportunity Youth United (of which Garcia is a co-founder)
A selection of Francisco Garcia’s international mural-making projects.
Quote from Garcia in When We Fight We Win - "We have to believe in the next generation and help youth feel and see hope for their future. Instead of place-making, we need place-keeping, where local culture is celebrated and respected."
Francisco Garcia in his Grand Avenue studio standing behind a large canvas of his work.

Phoenix College (PC) alumnus and Vanguard Award winner Francisco Garcia lives at the intersection of social entrepreneurship and public art, finding his voice as an activist and artist. 

When Francisco was a teen, he did street graffiti and was getting in trouble at school. He says he didn’t see a bright future for himself. When his family moved from Los Angeles to Phoenix, he continued on a disruptive path and was suspended from multiple high schools.

The turning point came when he was arrested as a teen, and part of his sentence included community service. He attended a youth night at Victory Outreach, and his life began to take a positive path. While working for ACYR, Adam Soto referred him to visit the art director from Las Artes.  It was there that he met Chicano artist and muralist Martin Moreno. Martin showed Francisco that public art can be used as a vehicle to share storytelling, culture, and purpose. Francisco was introduced to Chicano arts and became the youngest board member of the arts organization ALAC (Arizona Latin@ Arts and Cultural Center), which was the first Latino Cultural Center in Arizona. 

Francisco says it was important for him to have mentors who looked like him and to also experience support and encouragement from those who didn’t look like him. His uncle Oscar Garcia and one of his mentors, Judy Butzine, who is co-founder and past director of the Cultural Arts Coalition, suggested Francisco return to school and get involved with M.E.Ch.A (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán), a US-based organization promoting Chicano unity and empowerment. In 2006, Francisco enrolled at Phoenix College.  

Francisco embarked on his educational path but lost his financial support, prompting him to leave college. Fueled by resilience, he returned to PC in 2007. He heard about the Eric Fischl Scholars Program and was curious if he would be eligible for the scholarship. Francisco says he was surprised when he was accepted into the program, but excited to explore how he would channel his talent and enthusiasm for graffiti toward a degree and career in the arts. 

In 2008, Francisco submitted a piece of his work to PC’s annual Student Art Competition and was surprised again when he won a Vanguard Award for best in show. He points to the Vanguard Award as a pivotal point in his life, boosting his confidence in pursuing a career in the arts and his work. 

Francisco used the $2,500 award stipend towards purchasing a vehicle, which allowed him to increase his community engagement and social activism. For the first time, Francisco felt he was achieving personal and professional goals through art-making. This support was critical to Francisco’s development and growth at the time, as he didn’t feel like his family understood his role or passion for the arts.

"Many times, students that look like me don't have the support to pursue their education and career goals, so mentors are critically important to step in and believe in the mentees. Each one teaches one." - Francisco Garcia

Another significant juncture in Francisco's artistic growth occurred during his participation in a Study Abroad program in 2008, where he traveled to Mexico City, Guanajuato, and Guadalajara. It was there that he encountered his artistic heritage for the first time, an experience that continues to shape and influence his artistry.

After graduating from PC, Francisco pursued a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at Arizona State University (ASU). While pursuing his degree at ASU, he joined AmeriCorps Public Allies, doing community advocacy work. He was asked to speak at Youth Summit 2012 at the White House and shared recommendations to the White House for Community Solutions regarding Opportunity Youth and Educational and work opportunities. Soon after, Dorothy Stoneman recruited Francisco and other young leaders to co-found the National Council of Youth Leaders and Opportunity Youth United, a national advocacy movement building investment in education, supporting family and community life, ending mass incarceration and discrimination, and promoting participatory democracy.

In 2014, Francisco was invited to an International Artist Residency in India, where he collaborated with local women and children to create public art. This spurred a passion for exploring additional cultures and communities. Francisco has traveled to more than 12 countries to create and study public art. 

In 2015, Francisco received the City of Phoenix Mayor’s Art Award, and his art was featured in two films: Spare Parts and Underwater Dreams. In 2016, his art was published in a book titled: "When We Fight, We Win", highlighting five human rights movements in the US. 

His social justice work has been featured on PBS, CNN, Fox, New Times, and other media sources. Francisco is passionate about celebrating culture, creating cultural events for the community, and working with diverse youth groups.

As he reflects on his time at Phoenix College, Francisco says that PC has opened many doors and made him feel welcome and comfortable exploring and growing. He’s still connected with many of the artists he met and worked with at PC. 

He works on commissioned and personal pieces from his studio in Phoenix’s historic Grand Avenue Arts District. He continues seeking new ways to positively impact youth through art-making and creating public art. His murals can be seen across Maricopa County. He is currently working on a commissioned piece for Fuerte Arts Movement and Honest AZ that will be presented in front of the Arizona Capitol later this month. He currently has a solo art show at Goodyear City Hall, it will be available for viewing from April 11, 2024 - July 9th, 2024.  

Francisco has also created an arts collective called Art Justice. He aims to bring social activists, entrepreneurs, and community leaders together to create meaningful art projects, events, workshops, and empowering art exhibitions. He also has an art gallery in his art studio. For more information, follow @enuf_artgallery and @artjusticemovement.