October 2023

alumni stories Where are they now?

Edition 43—Massiel Grullon

written by Eliza Whalen

Knowing Your Worth

AFHH Alumna Massiel Grullon Headshot

Massiel Grullon’s response when I ask her what advice she would give her teen self is concise, but impactful: “Don’t ever undervalue yourself as an artist.”

Though Grullon has not always been fully aware of her worth as a creator, her confidence has grown over the years alongside her career as a mentor, painter, designer, and muralist. Now, after over a decade spent at Artists For Humanity, she is prepared to start a new chapter.

While many AFH alumni recall first arriving at the organization as teens, Grullon’s experience reaches back even further. At nine years old, she began attending AFH’s Saturday Blast! program, which provided introductory fine arts classes to Boston youth. Six years later–now a freshman at Boston Arts Academy in the Fenway–Grullon followed her persistent desire for a creative outlet back to AFH.

AFHH Alumna Massiel Grullon painting while a teen at AFH

Work created by Grullon as a teen at AFH.

“As soon as I walked in, I felt a connection instantly,” Grullon remembers, describing her first day at AFH as a teen, “everyone was so close and personal.” After sharing her sketchbook with AFH co-founders Rob Gibbs and Damon Butler, she was quickly hired.

Grullon had always been artistically talented growing up, raised with the extensive support of her mother, a painter and dancer, who she lovingly designates as her “muse.” Though she came into AFH with a well-established flair for creativity, Grullon credits the organization with giving her the resources she needed to use her skills professionally.

“Artists For Humanity gave the tools, and I sucked it up like a sponge.”

Though she began her employment in the Painting Studio, Grullon frequently found herself working in graphics, using what she learned in each to develop her personal style. Beyond her time in the studio, Grullon learned how to connect with clients, communicate effectively, and expand her network.

AFHH Alumna Massiel Grullon painting while a teen at AFH

Work created by Grullon as a teen at AFH.

Working with AFH mentors alone provided Grullon with a unique experience. Describing herself as a “very observant person,” she absorbed everything she could learn from the people around her who had built a career around their artistic practice.

Grullon immediately put what she learned to practice, developing an impressive body of work, frequently featuring hand-painted stencil-like portraits. Recalling her first commissioned client project–a portrait in her signature pop art style–she can’t help but laugh at the nerve-wracked memory. “It’s just so funny, thinking back now,” she says, referencing her emotional response to the constructive critique she received from AFH mentors, “it just got easier and easier over time.”

AFHH Alumna Massiel Grullon painting while a teen at AFH

Work created by Grullon as a teen at AFH.

While she was reaping the benefits of her hard work at AFH, however, Grullon struggled as she approached the end of high school. During her senior year, two weeks before her graduation, she decided to drop out of Boston Arts Academy.

Though Grullon was a teen at AFH at a time when the organization’s academic resources were not as developed as they are now, she expresses immense gratitude for the support she received from her mentors after dropping out.

“AFH was always there for me…they kept me out of trouble.”

In the years after she dropped out, Grullon first obtained her GED, then attended Boston Day and Evening Academy to complete her high school diploma–all the while continuing her work at AFH, now as an assistant. When Grullon began to think about continuing her education, the support she received from AFH mentors persisted. “They helped me tremendously with the college application…with my FAFSA and all that,” she explains, “they were just so good, guiding me through.” She credits former Graphic Design Mentor Claudia De Piante Vicin with helping her to realize her potential, describing her as a “big sister” who eventually helped her to obtain a full ride to Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts.

AFHH Alumna Massiel Grullon painting while a teen at AFH

Self-portrait created by Grullon as a teen at AFH.

While at Montserrat, Grullon was able to hone her technical skills, experimenting with oil painting and sculpture. Though the decision to attend college was a significant change, she felt well-prepared by the artistic and professional foundations she laid at AFH.

When I interview Grullon, she is celebrating her final day at AFH after ten years as a mentor–a position she began upon her graduation from Montserrat. Though she has spent a decade working with teens in the Painting and Graphic Design Studios, she still glows with appreciation for the experience and opportunities the position has provided.

AFHH Alumna Massiel Grullon painting while a teen at AFH

Work created by Grullon as a teen at AFH.

Asking her about her proudest moment as an AFH mentor, Grullon tells me about when she was selected to lead a project for Google, designing a set of dancing abstract figures to be placed in the company’s Cambridge headquarters. Though the prestige of the work excited her, Grullon seems most happy looking back on the large sum of money the piece brought to AFH.

A strong desire to give back is a defining characteristic of Grullon’s years at AFH. For everything AFH has provided to her–a creative outlet, emotional support, academic guidance–she has expressed her gratitude by mentoring a new generation and actualizing impactful projects.

As a mentor, Grullon continued to explore her artistic practice. Between 2021 and 2022, in addition to mentoring, Grullon took on a role as an AFH artist-in-residence. The residency allowed her to develop a large body of work, concluding with her first-ever solo show, “Energy Flow,” during AFH’s Open Studios.

“That [solo show] definitely helped me realize my worth as an artist.”

AFHH Alumna Massiel Grullon creative portrait

Grullon with her work for “Energy Flow”.

The pieces shown in “Energy Flow,” are prime examples of Grullon’s evolution as an artist. Though reflective of the graphic style she worked in as a teen at AFH, her use of color and retro-inspired abstraction demonstrates how she has developed her practice over the years. Between her experience as an artist-in-residence and the freelance work she pursued while a mentor at AFH, Grullon began to contemplate the next steps in her professional life.

AFHH Alumna Massiel Grullon Paintings Energy Flow series

Work created by Grullon as an AFH resident for “Energy Flow”.

After nearly two decades spent with AFH, Grullon left to pursue her career as an emerging independent artist in Boston in late June of 2023. At the time of our interview, she had just celebrated the opening of her largest mural to date at Charlestown Navy Yard, and was working on a commission for a real estate company in Boston’s Leather District.

AFH Alumna and Artists Massiel Grullon's mural at Charlestown Navy Yard

Grullon’s mural at Charlestown Navy Yard.

At AFH, I had the opportunity to see the reaction of the staff to Grullon’s farewell–tearful–but full of excited confidence in her future. The feeling is mutual: “AFH is my art family,” she shares, expressing her appreciation for the support–creative, academic, emotional–that she has received. Now, Grullon is ready to use all she has learned to discover the new opportunities that await her.

Written by Eliza Whalen.

To learn more about Massiel Grullon, visit massielgrullon.com or find her on Instagram @massielgrullondesigns.

Thank you to our supporters, including:

The Lynch Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
Sustaining Grants - Cummings Foundation - Cummings Foundation
State Street
John Hancock - MLK Scholars
Stavros Niarchos Foundation
Mass Cultural Council
The Wilson Sheehan Foundation
Wellington Management
Liberty Mutual Insurance
Ann Theodore Foundation
edvestors - Driving Change in Urban Schools