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A PETAL Project Reflection to End 2011

The John H. Boner Children & Youth Department collaborated with the Theater of Inclusion this past semester to work with a group of our students from Arsenal Tech HS on a photography project where they documented the work of the Legacy Projects in the neighborhood.  We thought it would be appropriate to end 2011 with a reflection and a challenge from their experience…..

St. Clair Senior Apartments PETAL ProjectThroughout 2011, my collaborator Rebecca Hutton and I had the great pleasure of working with young people from East 10th United Methodist Children and Youth Center and Arsenal Technical High School John H. Boner students on The PETAL Project (Photographing Eastside Transformation and Legacy). Supportive community partners gave us a remarkable degree of access to places that included a board room and a remodeled house, a construction site and a community center, a grocer and a school. We stood underneath converging highways and walked on a gigantic mural. We dodged St. Clair Apartments PETAL Projectelectricians and navigated a maze of packing crates in the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center. Wherever we went there was someone to open a door, give a brief explanation, and thank us for being there. The neighborhood hospitality enveloped us at every step. It seemed we had found the original village where anyone would want to grow up in.

Legacy Center PETAL ProjectEach PETAL Project artist carried a digital camera. They received instruction on how to use the camera and, more importantly, were introduced to transferable, aesthetic principles. Each PETAL Project artist then engaged these principles to look at, reflect on, and document each of the sites we visited. The photographs that were taken reveal a neighborhood completely absorbed in change. Here was a gorgeous house where an empty lot stood only two months ago. Here were new apartments rising above the street. Construction was everywhere. Murals were being painted. The old was joined by the new wherever we went.

So much change could easily overwhelm anyone but not the young artists of the PETAL Project. These artists took up the creative process, Pogue's Run Grocer PETAL Projectrekindled their curiosity, and began asking critical questions of themselves: What is legacy? What is my role in making this place a good place to live?  Their world view was on the move. Transformation, whether in the neighborhood or in the minds of these artists, became the thing to talk about. The PETAL Project workshops gave way to an on-going public conversation that was as thoughtful and stunning as the photographs.

Simple words, beautiful images, a palpable sense of respect, all contributed to the insightful PETAL Project discussions. There was an almost haiku feel to the written and spoken expression in the workshops. Phrases like, “This is important to me” and “This is who I am” or “I find this beautiful” came easily from the hands and mouths of those who were present.

Tech Students PETAL ProjectRebecca and I have collaborated on an endless array of youth-centered, arts-based projects over the past decade. We have worked in numerous neighborhoods around the country. We have addressed important and critical issues in our work. But I’ve never experienced anything like the PETAL Project. It is so simple in its approach – look at the world and reflect upon it. And, it is so complex in its outcomes – heart-felt words and images coming together to begin, again, the story of how beautiful a neighborhood can be to those who live there and to those who visit. When I return to my own studio I find myself better able to discern what is unimportant from what is essential. This is the gift that the PETAL Project artists have given to me.

by Dante Ventresca, artist and Theater of Inclusion Founder

**All photos were taken by the students involved in the PETAL Project and Rebecca Hutton, CEO of Theater of Inclusion.

5 Responses to “A PETAL Project Reflection to End 2011”

  1. Felipe Martinez

    Jan 6th, 2012 :

    What a great project! I hope to see them all displayed. I love the picture of the clouds and building windows.

  2. Felipe Martinez

    Jan 6th, 2012 :

    Great project! Will the pictures be displayed? I love the one of the clouds and windows

  3. admin

    Jan 6th, 2012 :

    This is interesting.

  4. admin

    Jan 6th, 2012 :

    Really interesting.

  5. Laura Henn

    Jan 14th, 2012 :

    Very inspiring! I also would like to see the exhibit (and I need to start taking photographs, myself). Thank you for expanding the horizons of these young people.

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