While global outreach is the central theme of the I AM: International Foundation, we also recognize the importance of providing creative opportunities here in the United States. Through educational workshops in public schools, partnerships with other non-profit organizations, and special photography projects, these community-based “I AM: Projects” nurture the understanding cultural diversity while filling needs close to home.
HOME GROWN PROJECT SERIES…
I AM: Homegrown
The project, “I AM: Homegrown” was a series of four workshops that provided a group of 13 home schooled teenagers (ages 13-18) in Chatham/Columbia County with an opportunity to explore identity through art and self-portrait photography. Participants engaged in discussions about their sense of identity as it relates to issues in their personal lives as well as being a part of the home school community. Activities included improvisational/reactionary writing exercises; observing and discussing self-portrait photographs of other children around the world from previous I AM: Projects; taking a series of self-portrait photographs, and completing a mixed media painting on a transparency which was overlaid on a large black and white photo printout. Participants also analyzed, selected, and edited their own images, and received two professional prints of their favorite self-portrait photographs.
The goal was to trap a moment in time, to examine that moment, then reflect on it as a young adult.
Though each member of the group had a different personal response, it was clear that the general reaction to the project was one of intense curiosity. The opportunity for teenagers to explore identity in such a purely visual way, I think, served as a catalyst for deeper exploration of the self. A photograph is superficial, to a degree. It is the process by which it was created, the method by which it is observed, and how thoughts about that picture are applied that allows an image to become a tool to unlock something more meaningful. The group’s willingness to, literally, take an up-close look at themselves through the camera’s mirror and to reflect on their own image at such a critical moment in time is commendable.
READ MORE ABOUT “I AM: HOMEGROWN”…
I AM: Albany NY
The I AM: International Foundation partnered with the Albany Barn to offer “I AM: Albany,” a photography workshop, to 22 second-grade students at the Arbor Hill Elementary School. Based on the idea of self-portraiture, the children were encouraged to create expressive artworks using a variety of media over three two-hour classes between May 30th-June 13th, 2012. The capstone of the experience was an “interactive self-portrait” where children took their own photographs using a remote control and high-resolution camera on a tripod. These portraits comprise the eponymous installation at Stage 1 and will go on to appear in exhibitions internationally. The “I AM: Albany” exhibition opened on August 3, 2012 in conjunction with the monthly “1st Friday” Arts Walk in downtown Albany.
Projects like “I AM: Albany” offer the full experience of the self-portrait photography workshops, art-making, and exhibition but have the added element of the cultural enrichment that comes from looking at videos, photos, art, and artifacts from other countries. Through discussion and storytelling, dialogues surrounding diversity, identity, and global cultures arise naturally and are led by the children themselves.
I AM: ALBANY VIDEO
I AM: Pittsfield
In May/June 2012, the I AM: International Foundation joined forces with The Christian Center of Pittsfield, MA and the Juvenile Resource Center (JRC), a collaboration of the Sheriff’s Office and the Pittsfield School Department. The program operates in the former Human Services area of the former Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction. The mission of the Juvenile Resource Center is to provide a safe and secure environment in which students are provided the opportunity to fulfill their potential. This is accomplished by providing education, casework, counseling and employment services.
Twelve students of the JRC’s Educational Opportunities for Success III program participated in a series of six workshops that focused on exploring identity through art and self-portrait photography. Activities included drawing, poetry, book-making, disposable camera photography, and photographic self-portraits. This project was facilitated by The Christian Center’s Director Ellen Merritt. Due to the success of the “I AM: Pittsfield” project, Ms. Merritt has established a relationship with the JRC that now works to provide more creative and community service opportunities for at-risk students. “I AM: Pittsfield” was made possible by the late Josephine Anne Swift Merritt, a true humanitarian in life and beyond.
I AM: Chatham NY
In collaboration with “artsVOYAGE”, an innovative arts-in-education partnership between Spencertown Academy Arts Center and the Chatham, NY Central School District, the I AM: International Foundation worked with a 5th Grade class to enrich their understanding of photography as an expressive art form, a documentary tool, a way of seeing, and a method for understanding history, time, and place.
“I AM: Chatham” is an important and relevant part of the work I am doing internationally as it creates a direct link between our local community and what we typically understand as ‘foreign’ or ‘other’. Listening to children compare and contrast their own portraits with those of children in different countries begins to validate the notion that common, inherent human emotions exist and can transcend language, culture, and geography. Each face implies a story that can be read by anyone, anywhere. Enabling the connections that make this possible continues to be my mission. I think of it as social media of a different kind. - Sasha Sicurella
Coarc is a nonprofit agency that provides programs and services to over 500 individuals with developmental disabilities in Columbia County, New York. A strong advocate for the rights of individuals experiencing disabilities, Coarc is an activist for changes to legislation and public policy and a developer of programs and services for individuals who are underserved. In June, 2011 and April 2012, the I AM: International Foundation created a special project for twelve Coarc participants. Adults ages 18 to 81 explored art through drawing, painting and sculpture, then experimented with self-portrait photography. Their portraits were displayed for “Artswalk” a city-wide public art event in Hudson, NY in October 2011. In May, 2012 seventeen Coarc participants proudly displayed their work at Omi International Arts Center in an exhibition called We Are: Art by Members of Coarc which featured self-portrait photographs, paintings on canvas, collages, sculptures, ceramics, and large scale photos taken with disposable cameras.
I AM: Durham NH
In the spring of 2011, high school freshman, Julia Katz reached out to the I AM: International Foundation to support her social studies initiative called, “Power of One: Students Creating Change”. For her topic, Julia chose to focus on the importance of bringing the arts to children in and out of school. Working closely with the foundation, a series of self-portrait drawing workshops and a visual slide show were tailored for Julia to present to a group of elementary students. Julia also collected art materials from local shops in Durham, NH which were given directly to the S.O.S. Bambini orphanage in Sighet, Romania.
“My goal was to bring people together and spread awareness of the power of art. In working with I AM: International Foundation I was able to bring this school project to a new level and help people in my community build relationships with others and learn about art and expression.” – Julia Katz