but now you can see
it isn’t just me
we are all one family
the lower nine
Nia Gates, age 13
(excerpt from poem “My Neighborhood is Changing”)
Photographs on display anchored by a giant prose-poem capture the creative spirit of a host of youngsters from the Lower 9th Ward in a special exhibit titled “My Neighborhood is Changing” at the Rosa Keller Community Center in Broadmoor. The show opened on May 18 and is available for viewing through July 18.
The initiative is brainchild of Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun, a wife and husband team who run the L9 Center for the Arts on Caffin Avenue.
Their goal is to inspire and encourage youngsters through creative writing and photography. “Neighborhood” is a summary of the youths’ work at the center in the summer of 2012.
Every photo in the exhibit was taken by one of the kids in the program. Calhoun and McCormick provided the equipment and basic camera and photography instruction before sending students to fan out into their neighborhood to photograph everything from riverscapes to truck drivers.
The youngsters were taught how to approach people and request their permission to be photographed, in turn highlighting the value of their community. Some of students’ photos have been on display at exhibits throughout the country and at the White House. McCormick and Calhoun are focusing on setting up the program so it can run year-round.
“We wanted the kids to write about whatever they had experienced that day. We’d go out and take pictures, have some conversation, then they would write for an hour,” McCormick said. “We wanted them to become more aware of their environment, their surroundings, to be able to talk to elders, to be able to communicate.”
The photographers, 13 and younger, captured a Lower 9th Ward populated by friendly faces and lush nature. A truck driver in a hard hat poses patiently for one; in another the city seems far away for a boy who closes his eyes and reaches out toward the Mississippi River and distant, rural-looking forests.
“We wanted the kids to see things in the best light, things in the neighborhood that we normally take for granted. It’s right there, you don’t have to go far for imagery,” Calhoun said. “And they are innocent in their framing; most of them just shot from the hip. We didn’t have to crop anything.”
More photographs and prose from the youngsters will be added to the Keller Center exhibit over the next few weeks. Calhoun and McCormick want to see the kids’ work turned into a fine-arts book and a traveling exhibit.
“It will give them another sense, a lifting of their spirit,” Calhoun said.
“What I really love about the exhibit is that it is a mix of nature and people,” said Maggie Tidwell, community liaison and program coordinator at the Keller Community Center.
Emily Wolff is director of community programming for the Broadmoor Improvement Association. BIA members provide financial support to Artmoor, an arts initiative which reached out to L9 to display “My Neighborhood is Changing.”
“The arts are essential to the culture of the city and what we have in this neighborhood, and this has been a way to showcase local artists,” Wolff said.
Tidwell and Wolff visited the original exhibit in January at the L9 Center of the Arts at the urging of Terri Gibson, a teacher at Wilson School, two blocks away from the Keller Center.
Tidwell said she was “so moved” by the exhibit, especially the poem by Nia Gates. Wolff said she was impressed by the diversity of what students captured in their photographs, including plant life and portraiture.
“It gives you the full sense of the neighborhood,” she said.
The exhibit is sponsored by support from film director Spike Lee, the Arts Council of New Orleans and the Lambent Foundation, with framing by David Guidry, Lakeside Camera Photoworks.
For more information on the L9 Center for the Arts Summer Camp, contact: Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick www.L9ArtCenter.org (504) 941-5159.
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