Teenager breaks online record for most temporary tattoos in an effort to raise library funds

Giovanna Cicalese, a rising senior at GAMP, covered herself in temporary ink - all for a good cause.

Last Thursday, 17-year-old Giovanna Cicalese covered herself in temporary tattoos – all for a good cause. Beating an online record for most temporary tattoos, the GAMP senior raised more than $400 for the Fumo Library. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

Seventeen-year-old Giovanna Cicalese bedecked her body with temporary tattoos at the Thirsty Soul, 1551 W. Passyunk Ave., last Thursday evening. 

But the collage of “Finding Nemo” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” images accumulated along her arms and legs for a good cause –  to help support funding for the Friends of Fumo Family Library.

During the organization’s inaugural happy-hour fundraiser, Cicalese, a rising senior at the Girard Academic Music Program, generated a curious approach to raising money that would not only benefit her childhood library but potentially break an online record. 

“I think people just like to see the tattoos,” Cicalese said. “It looks fun to them…I feel like it was something the kids like so why not do it to get money for the library?”

The teenager attempted to beat an online record of 420 temporary tattoos set on RecordSetter.com in 2014. Charging event attendees at $1 per tattoo, Cicalese inked-up to raise more than $420 for the Fumo Family Library. 

Clinching the goal, Cicalese collected about 430 tattoos by the end of the evening, which contributed to the more than $600 raised during the happy hour. 

Just this tattoo fundraiser alone trumped current program funding at the Lower Moyamensing library, as Fumo says it receives about $400 a year for programming, including $200 for each librarian. 

“There’s so many different kids that come to the library for homework help or just to have fun or for reading or just because they love it,” Cicalese said. “It’s a big part of their lives.”

Over the last year, the citywide Friends of the Free Library organization had been vigorously advocating for a $15.8 million budget increase for the city’s 2020 fiscal year budget, which would not only include increased programming funding but additional staffing to accommodate weekend hours. 

“I feel as though the (Friends) mission is to recognize the important things that are happening at the library and honor those activities by finding other ways to support them,” said Friends of Fumo member Audrey Ellis. “Because, they’re working with such limited resources.”

In the city’s 2020 fiscal year budget, which was adopted in mid-June, the Free Library of Philadelphia received a $3.5 million bump since FY 2019. 

Friends of Fumo Library, which resurrected this past fall after several years in response to the unforeseen slashing of Saturday hours across the entire Free Library of Philadelphia system, was seeking an exciting way to raise money.

“We saw that there was a lot of energy around people wanting to support the library but there wasn’t any sort of that structure for people to join,” said Rebecca Wanner, president of the Friends of Fumo Library. “….The Friends group really provides a structure so people have a way in that they can help do that and focus our support more toward what the library and the library staff needs.”

After deciding on a board game night at the Thirsty Soul, which was partially a pop-up event for the soon-to-open Queen & Rook Game Cafe, the Friends were thrilled to learn of Cicalese’s fundraising ideas for the evening. 

“She’s had this idea to beat this record for the most temporary tattoos,” Ellis said. “It was a great idea for everyone involved. It’s been surprising to see how many people find it to be so funny and sweet that she’s doing it.”

For Cicalese, who spent her childhood at the Fumo, including recalling even experiencing an earthquake at the library, helping to keep this cornerstone community institution alive was crucial. 

As a member of Fumo’s teen staff, Cicalese witnessed firsthand the effects of limited staffing and decreased operating hours, especially among students who speak English as a second language.

“You can really see the library help them,” she said “They’re really growing and learning.”

Ideas to break a temporary tattoo record actually sparked while she was working at Fumo. 

Photo special to SPR

The playful designs serve as prizes for the library’s youth programming. Once Cicalese noticed how thrilling the short-term ink was for the youngsters, the fundraising plan unfolded.

“The kids love the tattoos. They like doing this. They’ll always stick them on themselves, so I thought – wouldn’t it be a good idea to try to get them money from something they like doing?”

Cicalese, a multi-instrumentalist who plays trumpet and occasionally guitar and ukulele, says, one day, she’d like to receive a master’s degree in library science.

Until then, she plans to continue advocating for Fumo – even if that entails oodles and oodles of tattoos. 

“I always loved it there,” Cicalese said. “And I always loved reading and just being involved in the library.”


Twitter: @gracemaiorano