Jorge Rojas, Clemente Humanities instructor and lead advisor on the “We are One Inside Out” project, stood high above 1300 East on a lift cleaning an outside wall of East High School. He was covered in wheat paste and working tirelessly hanging 100 black and white photos representing ethnic diversity at East High School and the “new face” of Salt Lake City.
Local photographer Trish Empey, who specializes in black and white, was called on to take photos of the students.
Rojas and company, which included the likes of wife Jenna and friend, cancer survivor and ultra runner, John Maack (aka Johnny Runner), students and other volunteers, were a happy bunch as they worked.
If smile size is an indicator of project success, then mission accomplished.
The excitement on the ground below was equally palpable.
Through their studies, Rojas introduced the students to the work of French street artist JR and his international Inside Out project. This introduction inspired the students to say, “we can do something like this.”
Fabian Castillo, a graduate assistant at Westminster College, helping to gather data and observe said, “when they started, these kids originally thought of art as paintings only. They didn’t think photography or really anything else can be art…this really opened their minds.”
Their idea was to do something that encouraged mutual respect and unity and to spark conversation about the changing face of Salt Lake City.
That idea became a plan. Through a lot of work and challenges that plan finally became a reality.
These kids had to do some of the heavy lifting themselves. They had to make a pitch to the administration and then get the rest of the student body on board as well.
Ana Fernandez, a participating student, said, “There were lots of set backs. Mainly fear in the beginning. We started to think ‘what if people don’t like this?, what if our proposal gets rejected?’ We just kept moving forward and it all worked out.”
Fernandez said they all “thought the hardest thing would be getting other students to show up to take the actual pictures. But this turned out to be the best thing.”
100 photos were used for the wall, however, over 300 students showed up to be photographed and support the cause.
We often hear of high school students coming together and acquiring life skills through sports. Rare is the notion that a large collaborated art project could be the seed for leadership and confidence in youth. However, the “We Are One Inside Out” project and the Clemente Humanities course at East High School in Salt Lake City has done just that according to Jean Cheney, Associate Director of Utah Humanities Council.
Marilee Coles-Ritchie Ph.D., Professor of Education at Westminster College and outside evaluator said “in observing and putting our data together, we have seen 14-15 year old students engage in collaboration and critical thinking at a level that has worked to expand their view of the world.”
It is interesting to see the positive impact of project based work and art on young impressionable students.
Jorge Rojas, Utah Humanities Council, Westminster College, the volunteers, students and faculty at East High School, and Salt Lake City have much to be proud of and every reason to smile.
The We Are One Inside Out Project is a project of the Utah Humanities Council in partnership with East High School. The Clemente Course that inspired the project is a partnership between UHC, East High, East High AVlD, the University of Utah Honors College, Westminster College’s Honors Program, and University Neighborhood Partners. Alternative Visions has provided the generous support to UHC that makes the Clemente Course possible. For more information, contact Jean Cheney at email@example.com or 801.359.9670.
About The Utah Humanities Council: The Utah Humanities Council empowers Utahns to improve their communities through active engagement in the humanities. UHC is funded through gifts from individuals, foundations, and corporations, the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks Fund, the State of Utah, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Each year, the Council underwrites hundreds of educational and cultural programs throughout Utah. For more information, visit www.utahhumanities.org
Photos credited to: Anna Pocaro Photography