The impetus for the exhibit which is now housed at Bloombars began with weekly SMART meetings where art and media were identified as tools for public engagement. SMART youth have been organizing for more linguistically-competent and culturally-sensitive learning environments for English Language Learner youth in the public schools -- they even secured a meeting with DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson (through a flashmob, no less!). The event celebrated these organizing victories, as well as the accomplishments of the youth photographers as emerging artists and change makers with campaigns yet to come.
At the launch, representatives from MLOV and Critical Exposure spoke about the importance of empowering youth through media as a tool for connecting their stories to a broader audience. As MLOV Executive Director Sapna Pandya put it, "One of the most powerful ways we have of changing the world is through telling the stories that aren't being told."
The SMART photographers, through their participation in Critical Exposure’s community media internship program, learned to use the power of photography to share their stories and express what often cannot be stated verbally. The photos convey their everyday lives, as the youth were encouraged to document their experiences in and outside the classroom. The photos will be exhibited for the public throughout the month of December at Bloombars, and students are hopeful about their impact in increasing awareness about English Language Learner struggles.
Three of the student photographers in attendance decided to take the stage to talk about their experiences. "Basically, we're immigrants. We took these pictures because we want to change the world for other immigrants," said lead student organizer, Rainier Luza.
One of the newer members of the group, Guyadin Vickash participated by emphasizing why programs like SMART matter. He noted that none of the photos would be possible without photography training from Critical Exposure. Overall, SMART youth spoke eloquently about their lives, needs, goals, and aspirations.
Funding for the Communities in Focus project was provided by the Humanities Council of Washington DC and Collaborative for Education Organizing. Refreshments for the opening night event, "A (Sneak) Peek Through SMART Lens" were provided by The Muffin Man, Sweet Themez Bakery, Giant and Harris Teeter.
If you couldn't make it, do not fret! There are still many ways to get involved:
- Check out the exhibit! "Communities in Focus" will remain publicly viewable at Bloombars for the month of December. Photographs are also available for purchase at $50 each [all profits go directly to the youth and/or SMART]. Please email email@example.com for inquiries.
- Contribute to our Kickstarter Campaign! In addition to developing their photography prowess, SMART youth are also working on a documentary film. For more information about the project, read here or go directly to our Kickstarter page. Help spread the word -- we have through December 31st, 2012 to raise our goal of $1,500!