George Lucas Educational Foundation

David Garibaldi: From Outlaw to International Hip Hop Artist

This successful performance artist credits his career pathway program for making high school relevant.
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Announcer: Please direct your attention to the blank canvas.

David: When I first started in high school, I wasn't that focused. I failed a lot of my classes starting out. I was into graffiti, and you could find me painting on anything standing up -- trains, walls, just a long list of things I did not own.

And it wasn't until my junior year of high school. I walked into the classroom of Mr. Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan introduced me to a new art form called animation. Now, it wasn't new, but it was new to me. It was a new tool to use.

David: Meeting Sullivan, it was like a switch that just clicked, and he just simply told me that I didn't need to create in railyards. I didn't need to create in back alleys in the dark in the middle of the night, that I could create things that people will appreciate, that it can take me places beyond my neighborhood and the city. So my perspective completely changed about my art and also what it could do to change my life and other lives.

I remember this reporter asking me. So I said, "I call it Rhythm and Hue." "How does it work?" I said, "It's simple. I take some brushes. I line up my paints, my canvas. I turn on the music, and I let the music paint the portrait." "And he says, "How does the crowd react?" I said, "The crowd makes a lot of noise too."

David: One of the things that stick out to me that I learned in high school was how to be tenacious, and I remember Sean Sullivan. He said, "Look up the word 'tenacity.'" And I said, "What does that mean?" Tenacity, I had never-- It was like a new sound. I was like, "What language is that?" But I looked it up, and it was sort of, you know, being tenacious is just not stopping, you know, always having a momentum and going after the things that are sort of living in your heart. And that was something that was brought out of me. That was something that was taught to me through example.

When it came to the end of high school, I couldn't graduate on time. So now, after high school, I'm living from place to place, working odd job to odd job, and I was so frustrated. I was living in this little one-bedroom apartment. I was sitting on the couch, frustrated with the direction of my life.

David: And it really wasn't until a few years after high school I started employing the creativity that was living inside of me, but also employing the tools that were given to me through these art academies at Sheldon High School.

David: 2003 I started teaching myself how to paint. I started turning my illustrations and all these figure drawings that I had been doing in my animation classes into paintings, and that led to starting to paint live in jazz clubs and nightclubs and eventually developing into this performance painting show. So it was-- I definitely took an unconventional path after high school, but I give all the credit to the tools that I had gained through the art academies at Sheldon High School.

Narrator: For more information about what works in education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis


  • Karen Sutherland

Associate Producers

  • Doug Keely
  • Kathy Baron

Camera Crew

  • Jeff Freeman
  • Rebecca Usnik
  • Mike Elwell
  • Hugh Scott

Additional Camera

  • Doug Keely
  • Ken Ellis

Video Programming Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Michael Pritchard

Original Music

  • Ed Bogas

Additional footage courtesy of

  • David Garibaldi
  • © 2010
  • The George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • All rights reserved.

Edutopia's Schools That Work Merging Career Tech and College Prep installment is supported by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation.

Name: David Garibaldi
School: Sheldon High School
Location: Elk Grove Unified School District
CTA: Animation Pathway
Status: Professional Artist and Performance Painter

David Garibaldi is a performance artist with a calling. Garibaldi dances on a drop cloth while two DJs and drummer play hip-hop music. Compact and energetic, he grabs paintbrushes as he moves. Holding one in each hand, he starts making brush strokes on a life-size canvas board. As he dances, a portrait slowly emerges before your eyes: Martin Luther King Jr., Jimi Hendrix, Madeleine Albright. He calls the piece "Rhythm and Hue." He frequently performs at schools. And during the show, he tells the students his story.

Garibaldi was failing in high school; he was more interested in painting graffiti late at night in rail yards and back alleys. That was true until his junior year: "That’s when I walked into the classroom of . . . " He pauses dramatically, then finishes: "Mr. Sullivan." Shawn Sullivan teaches the animation pathway program at Sheldon High School, in Elk Grove, California. Sullivan was blunt with the young man. "You can get paid to do this, or you will pay for doing it." A switch clicked on in Garibaldi's head.

Over the next few years, Garibaldi learned animation, taught himself formal painting, and began creating his hip-hop performance show. He’s toured with the Blue Man Group, performed during halftime at sporting events, and took his act to Europe. This year, a documentary about his work, titled Walking Dreams, premiered. Wherever he goes, Garibaldi makes time to meet with students and urges them to stay in school. "Art changed my life, and now I know it can change other lives."

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"Professor" Paul GTO Briones's picture
"Professor" Paul GTO Briones
Host and Co-Creator of Virtual Science University & Pre-AP Science Instructor

This story is absolutely AWESOME! As a teacher, I always tell my students that ART and the ART of SONGWRITING are two tools that they can use to express what they have learned and take ownership of their learning. I have two stories similar to David's that someday I would like to share. I have to get permission first from my two ex-students to do this. This story about David just makes my day!

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