Alumni Spotlight: Jobanny Cabrera

After being a frequent New Urban Arts student, a Volunteer Artist Mentor, and NUA staff member, Jobanny Cabrera moved last year to New York City to continue working on music production, community service, and design. We caught up with Jobanny to see what he’s been up to and ask him about his time at NUA in light of his new experiences.



Tell us about your history with New Urban Arts.

Jobanny: A friend brought me to NUA randomly when I was 16, like how most kids find out about it. I didn’t start really going on my own for a while, but then I built a relationship with Ashley [former Studio Director], Aneudy [former Youth Engagement Associate], and Ian [Printmaking Volunteer Mentor, now Resident Artist Mentor] and they helped ground me in the space through lots of conversations and screenprinting, which is a big thing for me. After that point I spent every day at NUA, making music, screenprinting, etc. Like every student, I had to go through the heartbreak phase after high school when I couldn’t go to the studio anymore and I would visit as much as possible. I waited the mandatory year, and then I volunteered with Ian as a screenprinting mentor. And that taught me so much. I learned how to mentor, how to facilitate spaces, and everything Ian taught me about process made it into how I make my own music and stuff like that. I got a job working at a bank through Year Up and learned a lot about what I didn’t want to do, which is just as important. It doesn’t take a lot for me to try something, I’m curious, so I end up learning a lot both ways.

The pandemic came around, I was still in Year Up, and I made so many friends but I hated the work so much. NUA posted a job and I realized I didn’t want to go into the corporate world, and so I went all in for that application and got the job as Youth Programs Coordinator. It felt serendipitous. Those three years I was on staff at NUA, I was able to learn a lot about the workings of nonprofits because I saw the other side of the places I went to as a child. It taught me a lot about what a healthy workplace looks like and how to spot that.


And then you left staff last year to go to New York – what are you up to?

Jobanny: I’m currently an employee at Henry Street Settlement, it provides social services and art and healthcare programs in the Lower East Side and the greater New York area. I’m an Employment Coordinator here, so I help people get jobs and fix their resumes and stuff. When I first moved to New York I was just looking for something to get started, and I was looking for places that had NUA-type energy and the people here really get it. It’s a very similar vibe workwise and was the exact kind of thing I was seeking out.

I got accepted into D&AD Shift with Google. It’s a night program to get people into the advertising agency world that only takes about 20 students a year. I go to class every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and they help me develop my creative portfolio and practice. It has me rethinking my practice a lot, and puts me in touch with people very high up at cool businesses and those are my teachers. Group Creative Director of YouTube gave a lecture last week, and Spotify was like 3 weeks ago, which was cool for me as a musician. I get to connect with all these people and learn from them.


How did that happen?

Jobanny: Shout out to Sherly [Painting and Drawing Mentor], she sent me the info for D&AD Shift many months ago—it’s for self taught creatives who didn’t go to college who are interested in that kind of work, which I had already started doing on my own, so she forwarded it to me. I applied and got accepted later, on the same day I signed a lease for my new apartment in Brooklyn, it was so exciting.

The program is only 4 months, so I’ll graduate in May. The type of jobs people seem to get after they finish are all over the place, social media, 3D design, but it’s definitely ad/marketing focused. Everybody in the program has been so good to me, and it really feels like they see where I want to go.


What are you hoping to do?

Jobanny: What I’d really like to do is Creative Direction at a music company like Spotify or something. I want to oversee creative projects and come up with the mood boards and the direction, find the talent, come up with the ideas, etc. My ideal situation is that I’m in a position to help other people get into these big jobs, people like me, people of color that have the creative drive but get picked over because they don’t have the same access, etc. I told my teachers when I started I wanted to open up my own nonprofit and teach kids like me this stuff because you can’t learn this without going to college but I know, I’ve seen how the youth can definitely do this. These are skills that are adding a lot of value to my life and that doesn’t mean I want to work for a big conglomerate or anything, but they’re good for my work and also helping my career.

So eventually I do want to go back to RI—I’d like to own a house one day and it’s not going to happen in New York haha—I just needed to leave for now to grow, there are other experiences I wanted to have for now. I want to build a community, I have friends and family in New York, but I want to meet people and build a real community. I want to make a livable wage, which is always increasing. I’d like for once in my life to really be able to sustain myself. But the connection to RI is still there. One of my classmates’ younger siblings just got into RISD and was asking me questions and I told her to connect with NUA to learn about being an artist in Providence.


Were there things you learned from NUA that are helping you with your art and career?

Jobanny: It feels like my whole time at NUA prepped me for this. Both as a student and as a staff member, NUA gave me space to operate on my own so I could learn things the way I want. I could breathe. I’ve always been a musician, but I was only a musician. NUA was where I learned how to screenprint, how to sew, how to design and all that stuff. The interdisciplinary approach is really central to what I’m doing here at D&AD Shift and what I want to do with Creative Directing. On the challenge day before I was accepted into the program, my group’s brief was to sell candles to musicians haha. We had an hour or two to figure it out and it felt like I could see how everything came together from different areas because I had been doing everything myself already at NUA.

As for art, I’m pretty short on time right now if I’m being honest, but I’m looking forward to doing more of that in May when the program ends. But I’m so excited about what I’m learning and I’m reevaluating my portfolio and reexamining my own work and how to frame it and pitch it. I’m getting back into what made me want to do my old projects. The program encourages us to look back on how we’re developing ourselves and how we communicate ourselves.

I guess I did just get featured in PAPER magazine the other day! Shout out to NUA for that, that job gave me the time and resources to work on my own music—while I was working there I was asked to feature on Ms. Boogie’s album. We connected through a mutual friend—I don’t generally send beats to people, and she really understood that and so she wanted to meet in person to talk about music. Then she invited me out to the Hamptons for a week and that’s when we worked on those tracks. The album got featured in PAPER and they wanted to interview everyone who was a part of it. Other magazines talk about the album, but they really went in depth. It was so cool to be a part of.


illustration by Terrell Villiers