Arts & Events

From Sidewalks to Art Studios

By Andrew David King
Tuesday May 18, 2010 - 08:55:00 AM

When Sean Chapin found himself addicted to drugs and homeless at the age of 25, he knew something had to change. 

“I realized it was time to quit struggling and fight for my life and my community,” he said. 

Now, the 41-year-old is a veteran of the urban art scene and a community activist who goes by the motto, “Lifestyle lived as an art.” Not only has Chapin been commissioned by companies and organizations, including CSU East Bay, to create “graffiti walls”—plywood structures adorned with spray-can art—for public viewing, but he also founded Off the Wall Outreach, a program through which he mentors local teens. 

Last month, Chapin hosted an art workshop at Weekes Park Library in Hayward aimed at involving teens in productive art instead of vandalism, or “tagging,” and offering lessons in artistic techniques. Chapin’s ability to speak openly about his own struggles lent a positive air to the event and allows a special connection with the teens he mentors, some of which were present. 

Blanca Marin, 19, who goes by the street name “Maze,” met Chapin while working on a mural at the Hayward BART station several years ago. Marin, who was born in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, Mexico, and moved to Oakland when she was a toddler, became interested in urban art in the tenth grade. 

“At first, I was trying to do immature and crazy stuff, like tagging in buses with markers,” she said. “Then I moved up to train tracks and the streets, with spray cans.” 

When the consequences of street life took a toll on her fellow taggers, however, Marin reconsidered her priorities.  

“Some of my friends got in trouble with the Five-O, and that was when I realized I can’t be doing things like this anymore,” she said. “I just stopped doing all that, and decided to make more urban art instead of graffiti.” 

Marin, who took classes in urban art at Berkeley City College, is quick to differentiate between the two. For Chapin, as well, the distinction is important—though both terms are used in reference to spray-can art, “graffiti” more often connotes simple vandalism, something both Chapin and Marin strive to move past. 

Chapin’s Christian faith also plays a major role in his art—in the hip-hop world, he goes by the moniker Sac/Red, short for “Sean Andrew Chapman/Righteously Enduring Deliverance.” A strong believer in the capabilities of youth, Chapin’s goal is to prompt creative teens into developing portfolios and pursuing professional careers as artists, instead of buying into the glamorous dangers of street life.  

“Enthusiasm is sometimes really hard to come by with poor kids,” he said. “They’re over-influenced by TV and radio, and need mentors. But if you give kids a chance to express themselves, they’ll take them. I want to give them the opportunities they don’t have.”
If the teens at Chapin’s workshop were any indicator, he’s succeeding.  

“I tried to look into other things, like nursing, but it wasn’t for me,” Marin said. “Art has been my life since I was a little girl.” She is currently working to save money to attend art school for animation.' 

At present, Chapin involved in a number of projects for urban youth, and aims to foster communication between local nonprofits and outreach groups by becoming a liaison between them.  

To get involved with Off the Wall outreach or find out more about Chapin’s outreach programs, contact him directly at