In the 1980s and '90s, Stephen Powers spent his youth tagging Philadelphia walls. " 'Art' felt intimidating to me," he says. "Graffiti had lines, color and design—but it also had adventure." In time, being a vandal on the run got old, and in 1999, Powers moved on to making fine art. Eight years later, he won a Fulbright and headed to Ireland, where he looked to locals for mural ideas, acting as "a voice for the community." In Belfast, Powers asked a resident what to paint along a route kids took to school. She replied, "Tell them to play nice." So he did.

After six months abroad, Powers took his crowdsourcing to Philadelphia with 50 public paintings in an area needing rejuvenation. Today his art covers walls, bridges and parking garages in New York, São Paulo and Johannesburg—and appears in his new book, A Love Letter to the City. "Growing up, I narrowly avoided mistakes that would've kept me down. So these are my love letters to youth, to make good decisions." Message received.


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