Last week the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts held its annual youngARTS gala at the Ziegfeld, and it drew a top-tier crew of New York celebrities — Martin Scorsese, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Julian Schnabel, Jane Fonda, Frank Gehry, and Edward Albee among them — to watch a variety show performed by 37 creative high schoolers from around the country and then present them with cash awards. “I like working with kids,” Schnabel told the crowd. “They aren’t fucked up yet.” We asked the celebs — who earlier in the weekend had worked with the aspiring artists as mentors — what they were like in high school.
My parents didn’t get me. They thought I was this crazy filmmaker. I had this little black-and-white ten-millimeter camera. I made this ten-minute comedy thing. It wasn’t much, but I guess it wasn’t half bad because I won a $500 scholarship to go to NYU. I mean, I always knew I wanted to film. Explaining that to my parents was another thing. Would you show your director friends that first film? What, ha, are you kidding? They’d laugh. But I guess that’s okay; it was a comedy.
I was poor. I mean, really poor. I wasn’t that into school because I was worried about helping my family. From 17 to 20 years old, I was a truck driver. And every summer I worked in the Nabisco factory making shortbread or something. I can still remember the smell. What was your first architecture project in high school? Nothing, I never ever thought about architecture or art, or even college. I wanted to learn ceramics as a trade, so I was taking this class and my teacher brought me to a house he was building. I guess I got so wide-eyed that the architect working on the job brought me over to USC and signed me up for a class. I just fell into it, and I took to it. He paid for it. He saw my calling.
I can’t remember that long ago. I just know I was so extremely intense. I was so intense as a kid, so serious about my craft. I wanted to be the best and to just keep getting better.
I was pretty much the same, as it goes. But I do remember my uncle owned this chicken coop in Brownsville, Texas, and I had to work in it. I feel like I spent a lot of time in there. Shit, there wasn’t much else to do but hang out in the chicken coop. I hated the chicken coop. What was your first art project in high school? I bought this huge tarp from this guy out in Texas. It was so cool, this big tarp that you could cover like a car or something with, and I painted it, then suspended it between two big trees in the middle of Texas. It was just there hanging. It was a proud moment. —Ericka Goodman