I AM: Pittsfield allows teens expression through art, photography


Tuesday May 22, 2012


With the help of a digital projector, Sasha Sicurella showed photos to the 16- and 17-year-olds who produced them on an approximately 30- by 40-inch white board.

A blonde girl with lightly freckled skin. A young man wearing a star-power smile underneath a New York Yankees hat. Another photo taken so that all you see are a pair of penetrating blue-green eyes looking right at you.

"I can't believe that's me," one student said.

This is the making of a photography and art project, which will be called "I AM: Pittsfield."

The month-long effort was forged from a partnership between Sicurella's I AM: Inter national Foundation and The Christian Center in Pittsfield, which is collaborating with the Educational Options for Success (EOS) program at the Juvenile Resource Center (JRC), with support from Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler and education coordinator Sally Wheeler.

Hands-on opportunities

I AM: International Foundation offers hands-on opportunities for young people to explore their sense of identity through art and self-portrait photography. Sicurella is also the education director for the OMI International Arts Center based in Ghent, N.Y.

Ellen Merritt, Christian Center executive director, said the project is funded in memory of her mother, Josephine "Anne" Merritt, who passed away in February. A small exhibit is planned for The Christian Center next Tuesday. In the fall, the students and Sicurella will stage a larger-scale exhibit in a professional venue.

"We thought this was a group of kids who needed to be lit up, who needed the chance to stretch a little bit and explore who they are," said Ellen Merritt.

‘It's all about them'

At each session, Sicurella and her assistant, Dylan Soares-Kern, enter EOS program teacher Jessica Willis' classroom with bags of photo equipment and fresh fruit, bagels, juice and cream cheese. After a healthy breakfast, the photographer would share similar projects she worked on with other youths -- from India, Ethiopia, Israel -- whom, like these local youths, face obstacles in their daily lives.

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In addition to taking some photos, Sicurella gives the youths a remote control to make their own self-portraits.

"When I come to a group of young people, I don't know their past, I don't know their future. I tell them that all I'm interested in is what you can do right now," said the photographer.

"I'm trying to get them to understand the value of a moment. It may be fleeting. But for a moment, it's all about them," Sicurella said.

"It's been fun," said Shauna Prendergast, while drawing portraits with classmate Step hanie Booth, both 16.

Along with the self-portraits, students can make collages, illustrate their portraits and even create videos about themselves.

"It's different," said Darren Knight, also 16, a welding student with an artistic flair.

Seventeen-year-old Dereck Carter said he hopes the project helps change people's perspectives about him and his peers.

"I would like people to know that I'm here, working to do something positive," he said.

Willis said the EOS program at the JRC does not regularly integrate art into its curriculum.

"This makes such a difference. To see the beauty in these photographs, of who these students are," she said. "I mean, that's what teaching is, a series of beautiful fleeting moments."

To reach Jenn Smith:
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink

On the Web ...

For information on the I AM: International Foundation, visit http://iaminternational.net.


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