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Neighborhood House highlights community members in new art exhibit

Published November 8, 2012 1:10 pm

Inside Out • The display is part of an international project to tell untold stories through portraits.
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Neighborhood House is putting its best faces forward for its fifth annual Urban Gallery.

Each of the previous Urban Galleries, which were outdoor art exhibits that used the walls of Neighborhood House as a medium, have all been aerosol paint-based pieces. For this year's gallery, the 118-year-old nonprofit decided to take a new approach while still preserving the street art tradition.

The doors of Neighborhood House's garages are now plastered with photographic portraits of community members.

"It's a subtle but powerful form of expression. You just can't take your eyes off it," said Jacob Brace, executive director of Neighborhood House. "You're drawn to looking at the eyes, the smiles, the expressions in their entirety."

While the latest Urban Gallery features the faces of locals — community leaders, business owners and people who use Neighborhood House's services — the exhibit is actually part of a global art project called Inside Out.

French street artist JR conceived Inside Out after receiving the 2011 Technology Entertainment Design Prize. TED Prize winners are given $100,000 and the challenge to make "One Wish to Change the World," which the TED community helps bring to fruition.

JR's wish is to reveal the world's untold stories through black-and-white portraits placed anywhere and everywhere.

"The concept of the Inside Out project immediately resonated with me," said Michael Schoenfeld. "Clearly, [JR] found a way to bring invisible things in our culture and make them visible, and I found that to be incredibly powerful."

Schoenfeld donated his time and talent to Neighborhood House's Inside Out efforts. He shot 97 portraits in a span of three hours. The images were later sent to France, where they were printed out as large posters. Those posters were then shipped to Neighborhood House, where volunteers prepared them for the Urban Gallery.

"The whole process of putting it on was an experience. We tried to use the true street art techniques," said Veronica Scheidler, volunteer coordinator at Neighborhood House.

The volunteers used a wheat-based paste to affix the posters to the doors of the community center's garages. The posters vary in sizes. Some are 3 by 10 feet; others are twice as large. The portrait of Richard and VirlAnn Hawkins' daughter, Ashley, is one the more prominent photos on display at the Urban Gallery.

"They said they were only going to choose so many, and we were surprised that she was chosen to be one of the big ones," VirlAnn Hawkins said.

At the time of the photo shoot in August, VirlAnn Hawkins chose not to have her picture taken because she was in the early stages of recovering from a medical procedure related to cancer, which required her to use a feeding tube. By the Sept. 21 unveiling of the Urban Gallery, she had recuperated enough to attend the event with her husband and their daughter.

"We live just up the street, so it's interesting to see what they do every year," Richard Hawkins said. "It does kind of represent our neighborhood. I mean, we can see a lot of people here that we know."

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