It’s 9:30 on a Saturday night and the 12South neighborhood is buzzing. Three girls laugh and hug each other, smiling for the white flash of a selfie. Painted on their cinderblock backdrop is a 12-foot shield-like flag with the words “I BELIEVE IN NASHVILLE” split between its top and bottom.
Visit the mural most days of the week and you’ll see a version of the scene played out again and again. It’s minimal—three bold colors and four simple words—but the phrase has become a refrain for Nashville residents and a totem to visitors since it went up in March of 2012. “The mural was just to do it, just to see what would happen,” designer Adrien Saporiti says. “The idea was, ‘Will this resonate? How can I make it so simple, but still extremely impactful? And will it actually work?’
“It’s so simple, but when you see it, you get it right away,” he says. ”You don’t have to think about it. If you think about it, you’ve gone too far.”
This is the milieu in which Saporiti works, and the walls of the 26-year old’s DCXV Industries storefront off Porter Road in East Nashville are filled with examples: clean, immediate, intuitive statements, and thrift store-esque graphics, many based off Nashville neighborhoods, landmarks, and events. (And just in case you didn’t catch it, DCXV is “615” in Roman numerals.)
It starts with an obsession for fonts. “You shape the way it impacts people,” Saporiti says, pointing out the design “Amour et Justice.” It’s a phrase Victor Hugo signed onto a pillar of a Vietnamese temple. Saporiti, on a family vacation to the birthplace of his mother—the first time since she’d left the country in ’68—jotted the words down and then referenced his sharp pen scratches for the graphic.
“I saw that, and I really, just really loved the phrasing of it. ‘Love and Justice,’” he muses. “‘I Believe in Nashville,’ they’re the kinds of things it’s hard to refute. You have to kind of be a jerk.”
While Saporiti’s “I BELIEVE IN NASHVILLE” graphic is by far his most popular, with three mural-sized paintings around town (including one on the side of Mitchell Deli at the end of Riverside Drive), it’s difficult to pin down the exact reason for the social movement his art epitomizes. It’s obvious that everyone believes in Nashville now; you don’t have to read that far to find one national magazine or another “discovering” the city, and the Nashville Metropolitan Planning Organization conservatively estimates another million people in the region by 2035.
“It’s one of the most unique places in the world because of the intersection of cultures,” Saporiti says. “You have a city in the heart of the south, the buckle of the Bible Belt, that in large part because of the music industry is this giant cosmopolitan melting pot.”
This was the melting pot in which he grew up. The son of a Warner Bros. executive, one of Saporiti’s first memories is riding with his father in their old Mitsubishi Galant.
“What do you think of this?” his dad asked.
“It’s good,“ he said.
“Should we sign her?”
“Yeah, sign her.“
“I’m five,” Saporiti says. “It was Faith Hill.” He laughs about it now; he’s an adult, and he’s come to love everything about his boyhood home. But it took leaving Nashville for that to become clear. “When you’re from a place,” he says, ”you don’t really think about it. It just is.” Saporiti spent three years at the legendary Berklee College of Music in Boston after high school, where he was often asked why, if he was from Nashville, he didn’t have an accent. “That’s when it hit me: There’s a huge difference between the world I grew up in, in Nashville, just on the education side, let alone how people live, and how people outside perceive it.“
When Saporiti returned to Nashville in 2010, something was different. “Somehow, in those three years, that’s right about when everything started changing here,” he says. While once there was little in East Nashville for someone his age other than The 5 Spot, where he’d played a show with a high school garage band, the community had bloomed. “There’s obviously a very large, young, creative community in Nashville,” he says. “It’s an amazing time and place for it, because the things that I need to have done, there are people here trying to do that.”
And that’s really what Saporiti’s art is all about: giving voice to the effect Nashville’s community has made on his life. He makes art so deceptively simple and kitschy that it echoes out into the U.S. just as all eyes are looking in.
While Saporiti accepts that his “I BELIEVE IN NASHVILLE” work may prove to be the most memorable thing he ever does, he’s not slowing down. “I’m happy that it means something to so many people,” he says. “Knowing people that have been one-hit wonders, it’s like, dude, just be grateful. You can’t plan any of this shit.
“I’ve learned when something comes up, you enjoy it,” he adds. “If you have a passion for it — doesn’t matter what your plans are. Just do it. Go with it. See what happens.”
(Update: Saporiti subsequently painted his “I BELIEVE IN NASHVILLE“ mural on the corner of The Basement East, where it became a rallying cry for the neighborhood — and the city — after the March 3, 2020 tornado.)