Estria Miyashiro, Bachelor's in Fine Arts '92

The Art of the Matter

Tagger turned teacher Estria Miyashiro uses lessons from USF to empower students to create community art with a message.

Ask acclaimed muralist Estria Miyashiro ’92 what stands out about his USF experience and he’s quick to answer — the diverse student population and global perspective on campus.

He still remembers the camaraderie he enjoyed as a member of USF’s Hawaiian and Filipino-American clubs. As president of the Hawaiian club, he helped dig a pit and roast a pig in the outfield of Benedetti Baseball Diamond for the club’s annual luau.

“Shh, don’t tell anyone,” Estria laughs. “I’m pretty sure that wasn’t an officially sanctioned event.”

Estria, who came to USF from his native Hawaii, would sneak out at night to paint walls and underpasses in San Francisco and Oakland. “I come from running in the streets, writing my name on things. I come from community organizing, from dreaming of amazing changes, and from working toward them,” says Estria, a fine arts graduate.  

USF made me believe in the ethical business model and helped me on my path of starting socially responsible businesses and nonprofits."

In 2009, Estria was named best graffiti artist by the East Bay Express. In 2010, he gave a TEDx talk on the power of art in public. In 2012, he was honored for his art and community work by U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. And in 2013, he and two co-artists jointly won Miami New Times’ Best Mural award for their mural “Universal Aloha Wall.”

It was during his time at USF that Estria began to paint commissioned murals rooted in culture diversity and activism for Haight Street businesses. He quickly made a name for himself and a chance meeting led him to volunteer at Mark Twain Continuation High School, teaching high school students how to paint graffiti-style murals. “Most kids there were at risk of dropping out. But our class was the first to have a 100 percent attendance record,” Estria says. “No student missed a single day of class.”

Students who felt marginalized suddenly had a voice and a creative outlet, and some were transformed, deciding to drop out of gangs or to pursue college. Amazed by what he saw, Estria threw himself into building community after graduation, working with Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center in San Francisco and EastSide Cultural Center in Oakland — organizations that collaborate with local residents to create community art with a message.

Today, Estria is the co-founder and creative director of Estria Foundation, which works with Hawaiian students to create murals that “speak truth to power” — whether that’s a series of international pieces exploring water issues called Water Writes, a recurring national urban art competition and hip-hop arts festival in Oakland, or his latest Mele Murals project — which invites Hawaiian middle and high school students to partner with local communities and create large outdoor murals that honor Hawaiian culture and lore and educate young people about their ancestry.

“My foundation creates platforms to teach young people to become storytellers, painters, and community leaders. USF made me believe in the ethical business model and helped me on my path of starting socially responsible businesses and nonprofits,” Estria says.