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Children help install photographic display in downtown LaGrange

One after another, new smiling faces looked out over the street in front of the LaGrange Art Museum on Friday as Hollis Hand Elementary School students installed “Eyes on LaGrange: Camp ¡Libertad!”

The photographic display on the outside walls of LAM features the children of Latino families in LaGrange. LAM, Casa Alterna and local photographer, Henry Jacobs, partnered to make the display possible. It was funded through a grant from the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley.

“It is fun because it is seeing them have that awakening themselves of what is happening,” said Anton Flores, with Casa Alterna. “This morning it was cute when they all of a sudden saw their own images on paper, larger than life and to see them so engaged in the installation of images of themselves and of their neighbors. It is a lot of fun to see them see their little neighborhood and themselves become larger than life.”

Flores said the display is a way to introduce children to art and celebrate LaGrange’s diversity. Plenty of people figure to see the display too, considering the Georgia Department of Transportation estimates 64,670 vehicles pass through that intersection each day. 

“It is just fun to have an excuse to get to do an art project that involves kids, especially for something like this that is a professional piece, yet the process is simple enough [for children],” Jacobs said. 

That experience was an important part of Casa Alterna’s desire to be part of the project.

“With Casa Alterna, this is part of a holistic kind of approach with the kids, so we have a literacy program with homework tutoring, and then we introduce them to other arts and service-based learning,” Flores said. 

More than just that involvement, the partners hoped to bring visibility to the children. According to the City of LaGrange, 6 percent of the community identifies as Latino.

“[I want] for them not only to be involved, but for them to be literally a part of the project, of the images and, hopefully, to remind them that they are appreciated,” Jacobs said. “They are an important part of the community.”

Last July, the same group of children asked the City of LaGrange to install a sign denoting the Historic Goose Holler area. The city granted their request, and the “Eyes On LaGrange” display is expected to spark even more conversations about the community.

“This style of art, other people have done it around the world to similar results — wanting to highlight a part of the community that might be underrepresented and bring visibility,” Jacobs said. “Hopefully it will open up questions for people to talk to each other, and also to support your local museum and support art. Hopefully, this will encourage other people in the community to do similar projects and art like this.”

The children said that they were excited about the project and the visibility that it will bring to their neighborhood.

“It will be great because it will let people know about the people on Mona Lane,” said Heidy Jimenez, one of the students taking part in the project. 

The students that took part in the installation were Hollis Hand Elementary School students, but some photographs also feature Gardner Newman Middle School students. The display was created using Jacob’s photographs of the children printed on paper and a paste made of flour and water.

“It is meant to be celebratory, and so hopefully it will continue to build a bridge,” Flores said. “The hope is that all of the community can know that the art museum is here to be enjoyed and of service to everyone in the community.”

Even at its installation, it was spanning a generational gap as students from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisburg, Virginia, helped with the project.

“The other thing I love is the collaborative between college students from another part of the country with these students, working on a project together,” Jennings said. “There needs to be more intergenerational experiences. Kids learn from adults, and adults learn from kids.”

Because all of the materials used to make the project are biodegradable, how long the photographic display lasts will depend on weather conditions, but Jacobs said that is actually one of the best parts about it.

“It will hold up for a couple of weeks or months, and it’ll weather,” Jacobs said. “The impermanence appeals to me. My hope is that people will come see it while it is here, and then it will go back to being a blank slate. Maybe something new will come next. Maybe this will lead to something even better.”

In addition to bringing visibility to the children of Mona Lane and creating an opportunity for a community art project, the project also helped fulfill one of Jennings’ ongoing goals of taking art out into the community where everyone can readily see it.

“When I took this job over a year ago, that was my desire — to get the art outside the walls — because not everyone makes the time to come into the museum,” Jennings said. “Art needs to be an integral part of our community, so getting the Chuck Moore sculptures [installed around LaGrange], getting art outside the walls, doing art projects at Sweetland, just anything we can do to get it outside.”

The organizers said that they hope the project will inspire more people to visit the museum and see the donation funded exhibits on display there. 

Meanwhile, the students are primed to remember the experience as a fun art project with an audience of thousands every day.

“It was fun,” Jimenez said. “It was kind of sticky, but it was fun.”