Monday, July 22, 2013

Looking Backwards to Move Forward

                                                                                                   ART CONNECTS: 

MAY 24 - JUNE 11, 2013


 Opening Reception: May 24, 2013

Art Connects showcases artwork created by elementary school students from Burlington's Integrated Arts Academy (IAA). This show is the culmination of a new artist-in residence program involving resident artists from BCA, VSA Vermont and students in grades 1, 3, 4, and 5. The artwork in this exhibit highlights the mission of the IAA - which is to explore academic knowledge through intentional art experiences. Art Connects is a collaboration between Burlington City Arts, The Integrated Arts Academy at H.O. Wheeler in Burlington and VSA Vermont.


Has it really been two months since I last made an entry?  I guess time flies when you are putting together a thesis show, finishing up an MFA, selling and buying a house and teaching!  Thank the stars I have a vacation in three weeks.

Although not so timely, but still important, are images from the installations and openings of the Integrated Arts Academy portrait project.

The wall text from the show said:

After visiting the Echo Center's exhibit Race: Are We So Different? and contemplating the range of diversity within our own walls, the IAA decided to pursue a project that highlights our community's vibrancy and diversity through photography and writing... Michelle Saffran photographed all of our classes over a few months and classroom teachers worked with their students on writing a short piece about themselves. 

(note:  photographs by Kip Fulbeck from the Hapa Project)

The Portraits:

I photographed almost 300 students, teachers and staff at the school.

Below are a small selection of the portraits.

The IAA Installation:

Photographs taken from the installation at IAA with the student's writings.

Detail shots of student writings:

All 280 portraits were hung at the school and an assembly was held to launch the installation.  At the assembly a student from each class read from their writing while a slide show of all the images looped behind them.  I was overwhelmed with emotions as I sat there and listened and watched the children proudly tell their parent's and community who they believed themselves to be.

Installation shots from IAA:

Burlington City Arts

Installation shots from the opening at Burlington City Arts that happened right after the IAA opening. A smaller collection of the portraits were hung along with all the other art the students had done with artists George Gonzales  and Melissa White-Bronson:

. . . And Finally:

If I were a poet I am sure I would find just the right words to sum up the incredible experience it was for me to work on this project.  I thank IAA, VSA and BCA for collaborating on the Kennedy Center Grant that made this all possible.

I had little experience photographing people before this project.  Working as part of this project has altered my life. I have a new understanding of the control and responsibly an artist has.  My aim in photographing these children was to give them a voice; to offer permission and opportunity to be honest and sincere in telling us who they are.

I took several photographs of each person and when I began editing the images the full extent of the power of my position struck.  How could I know which image accurately expressed the person?  How could I avoid my own bias in selecting an image that was more a reflection of my judgement of their identity than who they knew themselves to be?  A heady responsibility that I took seriously.

After the IAA and BCA openings I heard from many parents.  One told me that there was not a dry eye in the school as the parents looked at the portraits.  Another parent sent me a postcard that read:

When I look at some of them - my own kids for instance - I see ten years into the future.  It's not clear whether the future is bright or dark but it's there in the way you captured my kid's mouth and eyes.

I am humbled.  I am feel honor and gratitude to have been able to act a conduit for these young people.  And, I must say, every time I look at the portraits we made together I smile.

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