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Photography students launch an Inside Out art installation at Sidwell Friends.

French graffiti artist JR wants to use art to change the world. So, in 2011, when he won the TED Prize, which provides funding and expertise for the most inspiring and high-impact ideas, he did just that. The Inside Out project is a “large-scale, participatory art project” that “transforms messages of personal identity into public art, by making digitally-uploaded images into free posters displayed in diverse communities.” Participants also document their exhibitions on the Inside Out website as part of a larger archive, which, over the last decade, now spans more than 400,000 people across 138 countries.

For the past two years, Sidwell Friends photography students have been working on a large-scale photo mural in collaboration with JR and his New York studio. The driving aim of the project is to “remind us that we’re not alone,” Natalie Wise ’22 wrote in an article for the Inside Out website, “and allow us to remember our joyful moments even when things feel hard.” This spring, that joy could be felt with every step onto the Wisconsin Avenue campus, where huge posters of students’ faces papered over the exterior walls of the School’s buildings—making it nearly impossible to feel alone.

Creating that reminder of community is precisely the point. After the death of Mikey Wood ’23 last fall, Upper School students felt the loss of their friend acutely. The photography students thought about JR’s mission to heal communities through art and decided to dedicate their Inside Out installation, “Heart of Our Community,” to Mikey Wood. “You’ll see it when you glance out the window during a particularly stressful math class, or you’ll sit by it while doing homework, or you’ll turn to it when you feel down and just need a little pick-me-up,” wrote Wise. “Our installation is something that represents the life of our community and honors the joy that Mikey brought us all in doing so.”

Photography teacher Lely Constantinople says the photography students deserve recognition for their tireless work with JR’s studio in New York to bring the project to fruition. In a special dedication space, the students memorialized their efforts with an explanation: “Photography students created an Action to capture joy within our community. We wanted to make individuals feel represented and welcome and foster a sense of togetherness within our School.” Mission accomplished.

Constantinople hopes to bring the project to the Middle School next year. Until then, even when the space is otherwise empty or you’re having an off day, the campus will be alive with friendly faces.

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