Adrian Grenier on Life Before YoungArts: "I Thought, 'Maybe I'll Be a Rock Star'"

Just as every mighty oak began as an itty bitty acorn, so too did Entourage star and patron saint to bros Adrian Grenier start as just a little boy with dusky stubble and a dream. But it wasn't only childhood fantasies of inspecting Jeremy Piven's wig collection that gave Adrian Grenier the encouragement to try for a life in the arts. There was also YoungArts.

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"So much in this day and age is focused on test scores and overly tangible things," Grenier tells Cultist. "Does that really create an inspired life? I don't know. YoungArts is an organization that supports the non-cognitive skills that inspire creation and expression. They help to create a more well-rounded individual."

For over 30 years, the Miami-based organization has been providing grants to artists under 18 years old across nine disciplines. This January, YoungArts will continue its tradition of bringing about 150 of these early-career artists to Miami for a week of master classes and mentorship. Previous awardees have included Nicki Minaj, Doug Aitken, Josh Groban and, of course, Adrian Grenier.

On Saturday, Grenier will return to Miami for a Basel-tied stop of his Teenage Paparazzo Empowerment Tour, on which he is pairing screenings of his 2010 documentary, Teenage Paparazzo with speakers, educational materials and a traveling art exhibit. Held at the YoungArts campus, the film will be screened at 7 p.m., followed by a discussion between Grenier, Christian Slater, and several other media personages. A reception and tour of the art exhibit will follow.

"We have ten pieces of amazing work that help to further articulate the ideas in the film. Now it's not only on film but also in three dimensions," Grenier says. The film follows Grenier's relationship with a 14-year-old papparazi in Los Angeles as Grenier tries to understand through the boy how art can thrive for teenagers in a media-saturated culture.

"There's a Bansky piece," Grenier says of the art tour. "They all deal with identity, roles we play. Shepard Fairey and I did a collaboration which was exploring the idea: what if we could graffiti, what if we could do street art on public figures? They're cool pieces."

Speaking to us from an undisclosed location where he's hiding out from those who might plaster him with Obey stickers or spraypaint "NECKFACE" on his handsome neck and handsome face, he tells us, "The Media Empowerment tour was really born out of a theme in the film that was really resonating with young people. With Austin, the papparazzo's being an everyman or everyboy and people being able to relate to him."

As Grenier sees it, he became a default mentor to Austin, not unlike the mentors he worked with at YoungArts.

"I think everything I learned was not only through experience but through my education at LaGuardia and YoungArts. He's a paparazzo but at the end of the day, it's expression. There's no wrong way to express yourself. But when you do express yourself, it has an affect and it's about having some ownership of what you do when you do express yourself."

Grenier tells us that he hasn't spoken with Austin in a few months but that, "He's of age now. He's almost 19. It's time for him to take charge."

When he was the age Austin was in the documentary, Grenier says, "I thought, 'Maybe I'll be a rock star.' Then I went to school for film. But Austin has this amazing impulse, this ability to see this opportunity he had. He had the technology and tools and went out and started participating.

"Kids at that age, it's hard to get them out of bed. That's half of it. But if you ask who his guiding influences were, in this culture they are tabloids and they are mainstream entertainment media. Which are fine for what they are, but if he'd had an institution like YoungArts, it might have shown him the more meaningful aspects of what expression can be."

In an age of mediated experiences, in which Instagram places prefabricated nostalgia on the present, Grenier believes it's more important than ever to develop the self through the arts.

"We can forget that there are other ways to do it," he says. "Instead of putting on a readymade filter, put on a filter of your own.

"You have to participate as much as possible, especially when in public schools, the resources are being cut every day and the arts are the first to go."

Grenier hopes to bring the Teenage Paparazzo Empowerment Tour across the country but leave the schlepping to him; it stops at the Bacardi Building tomorrow night.

For more information about the tour, visit teenmediatour.com. For more on YoungArts, visit youngarts.org.

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