Artist, mentor and entrepreneur Alejandro Poli — better known by his pen name Man One — addressed Old Union Hall Tuesday night, drawing the enthusiasm of more than 200 guests, including Binghamton University administrators, faculty, students and the community at large. In the weeks preceding his visit, the [re]BOLD Binghamton team worked tirelessly to build support for the Mural Festival, set to take place the week of graduation.
Instructed by professor Kim Jaussi of the Center for Leadership Studies, [re]BOLD Binghamton is one of several projects coordinated by the experimental Innovation and Creativity course. Participating students subscribe to the core values of an in-house movement known as Gen 10 that aspires to reimagine processes, communities and organizations. The six students who comprise the [re]BOLD Binghamton team have embodied these values by bringing the initiative from concept to execution, not only facilitating the story of Binghamton, but also shaping its future by challenging the mindsets of locals and students alike.
Man One opened the forum with his own story as a first-generation American raised in Los Angeles, having shown an aptitude for art from an early age. His first venture into graffiti began when a friend encouraged him to tag bus seats on their daily commute to high school, gaining name recognition in the streets and through referrals from small business owners. Even though he did not make much at the beginning, he loved what he was doing. Still, he needed another way to paint impactful pieces without resorting to the shadows. In the mid-1990s, he created a personal website to showcase his portfolio, education and contact information, differentiating himself as one of the only graffiti professionals at the time.
Throughout his career as a freelance and commercial artist, Man One has been confronted by a number of strong oppositional forces. As a former spray paint distributor and founder of Crewest Gallery, police would conduct routine inspections of his permits and supplies, loiter the block to discourage potential business and accuse the storefront of harboring delinquents. On several occasions when city officials commissioned his individual and collaborative murals, he would come back to find the walls whitewashed. Other times, he was met with reprimands, fines and attempts at prosecution.
Yet, in the face of contention, Man One has endured the political nature of his work to educate the general public about the misunderstood value of graffiti. His commitment to charitable causes and workshops for underprivileged children spans the globe, adding a distinct authenticity to his brand. These are not merely random acts of kindness; rather, they are acts of character that come from years of realizing one’s greatness and helping others achieve their own.
Binghamton is a city on the verge of its own greatness, left in the wake of once prosperous defense, technology and manufacturing industries. From the perspective of the University, Downtown is ready to become a college town. The student population needs a place to expand over the next decade, and with the rise of real estate comes demand for economic development projects that will gentrify the area.
But we are students who come and go with the seasons. Man One goes home at the end of the day. It is the residents of Binghamton who watch their children grow to see the next. If we come to BU simply to learn how to make a living, then we will have done no service in the greatness of others. We should fight to see this project flourish for the city that will continue to give even after we leave.
We are all stakeholders in bridging the gap, and Man One has the charisma to reach across. As a youth advocate, he will empower students. As a community activist, he will encourage civic engagement through the Mural Festival. And as a friend of the University, he will bring us closer to a destination city, clarifying the vision of Binghamton in the 21st century.
This is our story. Let’s reimagine this community by asking more from its future. Let’s [re]BOLD Binghamton.