2022Looking Forward with Allie NicastroPeople and Communities, 400 Stories Project

Gloucester 400 Stories Project
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By Terry Weber Mangos

FOREWORD

This is our first written story of 2023, our quadricentennial year. How fitting that it should be a story focused on a student, a senior at Gloucester High School, Allie Nicastro. Allie has already achieved much, and dealt with her share of challenges. May this story inspire us all to think about conquering our challenges, and about the future—the possibilities.

EDITOR’S NOTE

The three passages marked in italics are excerpts from Allie’s college application essay, adapted for this story.

At 18 years old, Allie Nicastro of Gloucester is already an award-winning artist and community leader. In November 2022, she won the People’s Choice Award at the Crane Estate Student Art Show. Her portrait, titled PAPA, honored her grandfather Jerry Nicastro, 75, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and now relies on supplemental oxygen.

But like all artists, she did not just wake up one day and start winning awards. When Allie was a young child, she cut socks and designed clothes for her Barbie dolls. “It was the first time I started to show an interest in art and design,” said Allie. “Also, my great-aunt Phyllis Mondello is an artist, a painter. She used to take me to the Cape Ann Museum, Peabody Essex, and other museums when I was little. I think that made an impression on me.”

Allie’s family encouraged her to pursue art and suggested she paint familiar Gloucester scenes like Ten Pound Island or boats in the harbor. But, as Allie matured, she naturally developed her own artistic preferences. “For example, I like painting outdoors at the State Fish Pier,” said Allie. “Something about the industrial buildings lining the harbor appeals to me.”

Allie’s artwork depicts the way she interprets everyday scenes and allows for emotional expression through both happy and challenging times. Sometimes Allie’s artwork represents her experimentation with different mediums and subject matter as she develops her skills and personal artistic style.

“Recently I completed some drawings of skulls,” said Allie. “Skulls are great practice for anatomy and allowed me to fully understand proportions and facial structure, which helps with portraits. I experimented with stubs of graphite for these pieces.”

Portraits are Allie’s favorite choice for painting, with her family often serving as the subject matter. Using symbols, color, or contrast, Allie communicates the personality and story of the subject.

In addition to her great-aunt Phyllis and her parents, many people in Gloucester inspired or helped Allie develop her art skills. During middle school, Allie took art lessons at Art Haven in Gloucester. “My instructor Traci Thayne Corbett was amazing,” said Allie. “She didn’t just stand in front of the room and tell us what to do. She was very interactive and walked through the class, helping us. Ms. Corbett encouraged me to choose the kind of art I wanted to do. She is a great artist herself.”

Allie attended middle school in neighboring Rockport. Entering middle school and growing older brought more opportunities for Allie to explore art, but it also brought some challenging experiences with bullying. The students began calling her names, making fun of her weight. But the bullying didn’t end there. According to Allie, name-calling advanced to cyberbullying, and more. She reported the issue to school officials but said “more often than not,” she felt scolded for reporting the bullying.

Eventually, as the bullying wore on, day after day, Allie’s family sought a Harassment Prevention Order against the perpetrators.

At one point, it felt as if my world had really collapsed. I woke up every day to a new form of harassment. It did not stop until I stood up in a courtroom and explained the bullying to a judge. For a while, my anxiety was fueled and centered around what others thought of me.

Thankfully the Harassment Prevention Order worked, but Allie’s parents were already looking for other places for her to go to school. The best option was to transfer to Bishop Fenwick, a private school in Peabody, MA. Allie began school there in 2019, her freshman year.

However, in 2020 the Covid pandemic began, and all schools utilized remote or hybrid learning methods. Allie then transferred to Gloucester High School from September 2020 (sophomore year) until her senior year (2022–2023).

Moving schools for high school was a fresh start. I could recreate myself. I became known for my artwork. Whether it was my artwork on public transportation or hung up in the hallway, people recognized it. People remembered me for my passion. I could connect with a group of peers because I finally had confidence and no longer thought I was not worthy of respect due to how some people viewed me.

During Allie’s high school years, she evolved into a community leader, advocating for teen art and artists. As a Gloucester Youth Leadership Council member in her freshman and sophomore years, she spearheaded the “Just Wear It” mask campaign, encouraging the public to wear masks to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Currently, Allie is a member of the National Honor Society and the National Art Honor Society. Since March 2022, she has served as a student advisor to the Gloucester Education Foundation (GEF), working with Executive Director Emily Siegel.

“With four peers, Allie shares reflections on her school experience and suggestions for how GEF can best support the Gloucester schools,” said Emily. “Her focus is often on students interested in visual arts, like her, and how to build strong student-teacher relationships, which have been an important part of her school experience.”

As part of her role with GEF, Allie also serves as the student representative on the 2023 Citywide Arts Festival planning team, working side-by-side with school and nonprofit leaders to design and relaunch the festival after a three-year Covid pause.

“Allie’s enthusiasm, insight, and intelligence are invaluable to the arts festival team and the GEF,” said Emily. “She has a unique perspective as a student who also has attended the Rockport Public Schools and Bishop Fenwick in Peabody.”

Other sources of inspiration and support come from high school photography teacher Emily Harney and art teacher Lorrinda Cerrutti.

“Ms. Harney is an amazing inspiration as a working artist,” said Allie. “She helped me plan my future art show at BankGloucester and recommended me for the Crane Estate Art Show. She also helps me price commissions, and so much more.”

It was Ms. Cerrutti who encouraged Allie to consider an art career, possibly teaching art.

“I really wasn’t thinking of going to college,” said Allie. “I work at BankGloucester now as a teller, so I thought I might stay there and move up the ladder. But Ms. Cerrutti advised me to consider college and see how art can be part of a career.”

BankGloucester is also hosting one of Allie’s solo exhibits. “The BankGloucester show is upcoming in February; they have been so supportive of my art interests,” said Allie. “I’ve had a show at Art Haven as well, and I’m also excited to start working on a mural project for Gloucester High School.”

The mural Allie speaks of will be displayed on the wall next to the principal’s office. The project, tentatively titled “Looking Forward,” will feature a background of Gloucester symbols and visual references to Gloucester High School experiences. In the foreground will be five graduating seniors looking to the future. Ms. Cerrutti and Allie collaborated on the concept, and Allie will independently develop the vision and create the mural.

With the new year (2023) just beginning, and her senior year ending soon, Allie is thinking of the future. She has concerns, personal goals, and wishes for her loved ones.

“One of my concerns is that I am afraid I won’t be able to afford to live in Gloucester once I finish college,” said Allie. “Just renting apartments is so expensive, never mind finding a house.”

For her family, Allie is hoping for good health for everyone, especially her Papa. “My papa now needs a wheelchair, and as I mentioned, he struggles with COPD,” said Allie. “I would love it if my family could go to Aruba with him. He used to go there before Covid.”

For her friends and herself, Allie wishes for everyone to get into their top college choices. Many of Allie’s closest friends are also artists. Allie has applied to two colleges, one of which is the Mass College of Art and Design. But of course, Allie has a jumpstart on an art career. “Yes, people pay me to paint now—their boats, pets, and portraits,” said Allie. “I hope that is a good sign for my future. I am making the best of my small art career now, even before college starts.”

The world could come crashing down tomorrow, in a ball of cadmium-red fire. I have no control over that. What I can control is the way my hand glides over a piece of paper and how I can use my paintbrush strokes to create a world on canvas. Going to art school will also allow me to create a life revolving around my passion. Art is not only my favorite way to express myself and spend my time but also what makes me feel safe and complete. My art makes me feel valuable, accomplished, and aware of who I am.

AUTHOR’S AFTERWORD

When I began writing this story about Allie Nicastro she was waiting to hear whether she had been accepted into the Mass College of Art and Design. I am thrilled to report that Allie recently received her acceptance letter and is now enrolled! Congratulations, Allie! All of us here in Gloucester and at the Gloucester400+ are rooting for you and your art career!

ALLIE’S ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Many people who have helped or inspired me are included in this story, but I would also like to thank my parents for their love and support; my grandparents, Rosalee and Jerry; and my Aunt B and Aya (Aunt Lisa Leahy and Uncle Mark Leahy); Ms. Cerrutti and Ms. Harney from Gloucester High School, Emily Siegel at the Gloucester Education Foundation, Bank Gloucester for hosting a future art show, as well as my supervisor Fran Mondello, my boyfriend Isaac Johnson, and last but not least, Terry Weber Mangos for writing this story on behalf of the Gloucester400+.

AUTHOR’S ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

It was an honor to write this story about Allie, who has inspired me personally. I would like to send additional thanks to photo editor Larry Maver, and Ms. Lorrinda Cerrutti for her participation in this story. We are blessed to be living in this community.

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