Collaboration with MICA Students, Part 1

After we took a week off during the Baltimore City School spring break, we started a two day collaboration with a group of MICA undergraduate students. Since we'd struggled earlier in the project with having the Jr. Viewfinders create short, narrative videos about their lives, we decided to have the MICA students help each Jr. Viewfinder make a short video about their superhero persona. We thought this would best maximize the fact that we had almost 2 MICA students for every Jr. Viewfinder. Plus, we thought the Jr. Viewfinders would enjoy being able to make all the creative decisions without having to take notes and do some more technical aspects of the activity.

So, after some fun icebreakers to get to know one another, we split off into our smaller groups. The first part of the activity was to come up with a narrative and fill out a storyboard. It really helped that the MICA students were able to basically transcribe the youth's ideas onto the storyboard. After that, each group set out to take photos and videos that will be used to make the video. A lot of the MICA students brought a ton of energy and did a great job of connecting with the youth. Once the groups got back, we uploaded all the material onto computers and said our goodbyes. The MICA students were coming back in a week to finish the project. We definitely had some youth who couldn't wait for their return! Here are a few photos from each group. 

Eastside Stories III Goes to Print!

We are almost there! Eastside Stories III is on the verge of being released! Just this past week, we finished our layout of the publication and sent it to print. We worked late into the night--finishing the layout of some spreads, determining the order of the sections, bundling all the files in their proper places, and ultimately putting it all together. It was a thrilling few days of intense focus and hard work. While we'd been working on the project for several months, we'd been focusing on each section as its own discrete unit. Now, we had to piece all the little stories and segments together to create a larger, cohesive representation of all that we'd learned about the role that home plays in the lives of people in East Baltimore.

And, we think we did a pretty stellar job. We got the online proof back and the publication looks amazing! The graphic design and layout is sleek and affecting. The interviews, quotes, and stories are beautifully written and captured. The photos each tell their own unique stories. Most of all, it's the way that the sections complement, enhance, and interact with one another that makes this publication so unique and special. Be sure to stay tuned to hear about our upcoming release party! Below are some photos of us finishing up layout.

And if you have any interest in getting your hands on one of these beautiful publications, e-mail 

Finishing Costumes | Photoshoot | Magazine Covers

The Jr. Viewfinders have been working on their costumes for a few weeks now. They've been adding intricate details to their capes and starting on other parts of their costumes. For the most part, they've focused on making masks, shield, and crowns to accompany their capes. As they've been working on their costumes, they've also started to develop their superhero personas. We've got Black Venus, Girly Genius, Gold Girl, and The Fighter. 

Once they finished their costumes, we had a photoshoot day. We set up a plain, white backdrop and we had Shan, our professional photographer, come in to do the shoot. The youth got into costume and struck a bunch of different poses. They had a great time getting in to character and loved having their photos taken. Then, we looked through their images and they picked their favorite one. We brought that image into Canva, the graphic design website we'd used during Campaign for Change, and they designed a magazine cover featuring their persona. Most of them were already adept at using Canva and they made some truly fantastic magazine covers. Check out Black Venus, Gold Girl, Girly Genius, and more below!

Starting Costumes | Recording Interviews

This week the Jr. Viewfinders started the next big phase of the project: costume design. Now, that they'd thought through some of the larger ideas and concepts around heroes, we wanted to embrace the more fun, creative side of heroes. We brought in a bunch of materials: fabric, paper, beads, doilies, pins, pipe cleaners, and more. The catch was that everything was gold. So, gold became a sort of theme of this project. To start their costumes, everyone made a cape. They picked out a fabric and used a template to cut out the shape of a cape. Then, we showed them how to used a sewing machine. We didn't go into too much detail, but showed them the basics that they'd need for the project. Sewing was a hit! A lot of the youth were really interested in learning how to sew and used their newfound skills to add awesome details to their capes. Overall, the cape making was incredibly successful. It was a totally new, different type of activity and the youth got really into it. You can see some photos of the youth at work on their capes below!

While we were working on the capes, we also had one of our video instructors take aside a few youth at a time to be interviewed about their heroes. We also asked them about their own dreams and goals. We took those responses and turned it into a short video, which you can find below. 

Eastside Stories III Update

The Senior Viewfinders have been making steady progress on Eastside Stories III. Last time we checked in, the Sr. Viewfinders had been interviewing one another and helped put on the OVA East: Finding Home event. Since then, they've been working on getting interviews with neighbors and community members. Using some of the connections they made at our Chili and Chat event earlier in the year, they interviewed a couple who are new to East Baltimore, a young woman who grew up here, and an elder who's lived here his whole life. 

Derrick, one of the Seniors, has been hard at work on a section about how high school students view home. He's been taking portraits and getting quotes from high schoolers that he knows and that represent a wide range of experiences and perspectives. In fact, he's already at work on laying out his section on InDesign. 

We're hitting the home stretch here. We have a few more interviews to do and then we'll start laying out the whole publication. Once that's done, it'll get sent to print! Stay tuned for more, and in the meantime, here are some photos of the Seniors hard at work!

Examining Heroes

After examining their own experiences and ability to impact who they become, the Jr. Viewfinder turned to examining their own heroes personal stories. We started by selecting a hero. The heroes ranged from Harriet Tubman to Ruby Bridges to Oprah to Eminem. As a warm up activity, we did blind contour drawings of our heroes and wrote some words that embodied their story and spirit. Then, we set about doing some research. Using the same personal growth storyboard handout, the youth wrote out the story of their hero and how their choices led to them making a huge difference in the world. Filling out the storyboard handout was actually more successful this time than it had been when they were filling it out about themselves. 

After they finished the storyboard, they started their videos. We used Adobe Spark, which is a free program that provides templates for short videos. Our storyboard handout aligned really well with one of their templates, so the youth just had to type in what they had on their storyboard and find some photos to accompany the text. Some of them also recorded voiceover, which is a feature of Adobe Spark. Overall, these videos went really well. We did have lower attendance than usual and that helped in terms of being able to provide one-on-one help to the youth with their videos. They seemed to enjoy making the videos and were definitely proud of them, once they were finished. Below are two examples!

Examining Our Experiences

To start part two of Becoming, the Junior Viewfinders explored a life-changing moment for them, a moment where things truly and significantly changed for them. We asked them to think about that moment and then either write or draw about it in their journals. We offered some examples: the birth of a younger sibling, moving, switching schools, meeting a new friend, a big mistake they made. It proved to be rather difficult for the youth to figure this out. Partly, they weren't that interested in answering that question, but also, more fundamentally, they struggled to step back and see a moment where things really changed for them. We managed to get responses from everyone, but they tended to mimic our examples pretty strongly.

Next, we showed an example video that one of our instructors had made about a life-changing experience for her. This was meant to help guide them as they worked on a personal growth storyboard, which contained deeper, more detailed questions about that life-changing experience. Again, the lack of investment at the beginning of the lesson carried over to filling out this handout. So, we called a sort of audible. The youth were supposed to all take or find photos that could be in a video they were going to make about their experience, but instead we decided to focus on one youth's experience because she'd done a stellar job on her handout. We turned it into an acting game, where all the youth recreated the scenes in her story and we took photos. The youth enjoyed this much more than the prior activities. It was a good example of the importance of improvising and the willingness to respond to the group's energy when working with kids, especially in an after school setting. Below are some photo from our improvised activity. 

A New Project: Becoming

With the completion of the Finding Home project, the Junior Viewfinders are moving on to a new project--well, sort of a new project. Really, it's a continuation of a project that Junior Viewfinders worked on in the 2015-16 school year called Becoming. Part one of the project focused on creating soapboxes and collages of the youth with their chosen hero. Please check out the free curriculum for that here.

Part two of this project continues the thematic and conceptual questions addressed in part one, while encouraging the youth to go deeper and introducing them to some new art mediums. The questions that string through this project encourage youth to think critically about who they are, the decisions they make, and where these decisions are leading them in life. Most importantly, it prompts reflection on how we become the people we want to be. It addresses these topics through artistic processes, such as, photography, video, and fashion design. 

Moreover, this project will culminate in site-specific murals throughout communities in East Baltimore, Maryland. And you'll be able to see some photos of those murals in future posts. Here's just a taste of some of the images that will become murals from part one of this project.

OVA East: Finding Home Exhibtion

This March, Baltimore United Viewfinders Collective hosted OVA East: Finding Home, an exhibition, workshop, performance, and open mic at MICA PLACE. Let me tell you about the various elements that made up this event. 

First, as you've hopefully been reading about, the Junior Viewfinders exhibited their homes and neighborhood that they've been built over the last two months. I won't go much deeper into this since you can read a detailed account of the project on this blog. We did have some Junior Viewfinders come out to the event and perform a rap and a dance during the open mic. It was a joy to see them proud of their artwork and sharing their talents on the mic.

The Senior Viewfinders also exhibited some the photos that they'd taken while working on Eastside Stories III. They had 8 large scale prints of family members dancing, little siblings playing, friends at prom, and much more. We even had one photograph taken by Terri, an 8-year-old Junior Viewfinder.

Another part of the exhibition was a collaboration with Powell Recovery Center. Gerad Forte, our executive director, had been teaching storytelling and filmmaking at Powell for several month. However, they designed their own installation during their art class. The theme was what home meant to them, as people who were in treatment and recovering from addiction. They drew and wrote their responses to the meaning of home on urinalysis cup, which they then connected to turn into columns that dangled from the ceiling. They also brought urinalysis cups filled with soil and some flower seeds, inviting attendees to take one home. Finally, they had a zine of writings that were also available for attendees. 

We concluded the event with a performance and open mic. Black Chakra, an incredible local spoken word poet, performed several mesmerizing poems. Definitely check out his work! For the open mic, a lot of the residents from Powell shared what home meant to them--some through song, some through rap, and some simply told their stories. 

Overall, it was a really powerful event that brought together a number of different communities in Baltimore to share their stories and definitions of home. If anything, it showed just how complex and complicated the idea of home is, which is the very core of the issue we sought to explore in Finding Home. Check out these great photos from the event below!