At first glance, custodian Manny Santiago blends into everyday school life, walking through halls and working behind the scenes. But not every student knows his passions, which reach beyond the school grounds. He has a passion, a talent and a story to tell.

As he walks into his office, paintings and designs splash off the walls that catch the eye’s attention. His “sanctuary” holds his hidden talent for visual art.

Santiago lived in Brooklyn, New York and graduated from Eli Whitney Vocational High School in 1985. He met a couple guys, Masic and Magic, who inspired and taught him to do graffiti.

His originality began to burst throughout every masterpiece he envisioned. He started his own graffiti group called “King of Arts”.

One of his buddies that became part of his King of Arts groups is now DJ Clear.

“He’s one of the greatest DJ’s of New York, he’s like a brother,” said Santiago.

Santiago was mostly a self-taught artist.

“I took art classes but everything else I learned on my own,” said Santiago. “I was always into art.” Santiago who chuckles when reminiscing about his graffiti nickname at the time: “beast”.

“I was big and had long hair,” said Santiago.

His artistic gift is permanently etched into his very skin. Running up each arm, Santiago keeps close his most precious drawings tattooed on him. What is so special about these tattoos is that he drew and designed each one carefully before bringing them to the artist to etch on for him.

On his lower left arm is a tattoo of his wife, two boys and him. On his upper right arm is a Taino Indian designed tattoo that contains four elements: a bear that represents power, a dagger that represents strength, a tribal sun that represents eternity, and the devil’s face, which represents evil. It reminds him all the time that power and strength overcome eternal evil. It gives him the vigor to go home and take care of his family no matter what.

He is a role model for his kids, who attend high school and middle school.

“They like to sit next to me when I’m drawing,” said Santiago, especially the youngest one who is to attend the school when he completes middle school.

Aside from his job at school, Santiago also gets paid to do what he loves most: create art. He has been challenged by and has succeeded in multiple projects that he takes pride in.

“I love drawing tribal designs,” said Santiago, as he points up. Centered on the wall is a painted tribal face.

One of his paintings includes characters inspired by artist Vaughn Bode.

“I made my own version of his characters,” said Santiago. He created his own character, putting his own spin of originality in his works.

“A lot of these characters are people I knew from my past.”

Above all he strives for a vision of owning his own production line.

“I want to start my own t-shirt business, that’s my dream,” said Santiago.
He loves t-shirt designing and already has a couple of his own that he has previously created. He is beginning his own line called “Bstlyin Flavas” which is his street lingo for “fresh”. His designed t-shirts are even for sale now from his new line for all students and teachers. Each of his individual works comes with certain significance through each stroke. He has chased after his dream and pursued happiness through art.

After all, “everything has a meaning to it.”

Erica Everett


9 thoughts on “King of Art: Head custodian Manny Santiago reveals hidden talent

  1. Thank you all so much! I love all the positive feedback for my story 🙂 Talking with Mr. Santiago was super interesting to feature this issue.

  2. This is truly a great example to not judge a book by its cover. Who would’ve known that custodian Manny would be so talented. Good for him.

  3. I’m glad this article was written, it beats the normal sterotype of ‘all the janitor does is clean’. They should do more of these, some teachers can play music and draw. This could be a good series.

  4. I think his artwork is cool and inspiring…he should submit his artwork to museums or auctions to get money off them

  5. This is a really good article. Not many people know things about the janitors here. You can tell that you put in a lot of hard work into this story. He’s really good at what he does.

  6. i always knew there was something great about this guy and i’m glad this article goes into depth with his past life and his creativity is just, well, fantastic. i wish him the best with the production line and i hope to see his art in the near future. this also proves the fun and or interesting side of the faculty at Steinbrenner High. it makes you think of what all the other teachers “hidden talents” are doesn’t it?

  7. Favorite work of his is the bottom-left one, with that alligator-looking thing in it. One of my favorite articles from this month’s issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.