Inside Out is an art project that was created in 2011 by artist JR. The project involves pasting the portraits on public buildings. More than 260,000 people have participated in 129 different countries.
The purpose of the project is for people to take pictures of themselves in a way that portrays their self-identity or something they believe in — often enacting change and empowerment.
The idea for the Inside Out project at Phoenix Academy was started by several UNC students within the Campus Y organization Art & Life.
Art & Life was created in 2013 by UNC senior Meredith Miller and recent graduate Sarah Molina. The organization uses art to probe social justice causes such as race, gender and identity. The group has taught art to the students for five semesters.
The idea to get involved with Inside Out began during a unit on political photography taught in spring 2016 by Sam Fletcher, who has since graduated from UNC. Miller said they started the project to help empower students who often feel disregarded by the community.
“Phoenix Academy is a high school that provides opportunities for students who have dropped out of other high schools within the district,” Miller said. “The Inside Out project’s purpose is to tell the stories of the unseen and the unheard. That is what we wanted to do with these students at Phoenix Academy — they are often type-casted by society and not valued as they should be, so we told the students to take photos of each other in a way they wish to be seen by members of their community as opposed to how they are often actually seen — we wanted to empower them.”
Miller said the project was also meant to change the way society views these students.
“These portraits are not only to make the students realize that they are worthy of this artistic space but for the community to see these students in a different light.” Miller said. “In a quote, JR, the founder, said, ‘Can art change the world? Maybe we should change the question – can art change people’s lives?’ I think this is very true — when you see an image it affects your lens of the world.”
To take part in Inside Out, Art & Life applied to have these posters created. Typically, the project costs approximately $20 per portrait, but Inside Out paid for Phoenix Academy, which allowed them to do the project for free. These pictures will also biodegrade on their own, which is considered to be part of the art.
Norman Archer, a UNC junior, interned at the Inside Out studio in New York during the summer and fall of 2015.
Archer is not a member of Art & Life, but he started the Inside Out project in the Spring of 2015 outside the Hanes Art Center with his friend after listening to JR’s TED Talk on YouTube. The photos included candid pictures of students swimming to highlight the diverse roles that water plays in people’s lives.
Archer said he was excited that Art & Life was bringing the project to Phoenix Academy. He helped the students post the photos Monday.
Gloria Sanchez-Lane, school social worker for Phoenix Academy, said she was very excited to see the portraits of the students hung. The photos were taken in spring 2016, so some of the students have since graduated. Sanchez-Lane said the delay in putting the pictures up was due to the pictures getting lost in the mail.
“I’m really excited for their parents to see these pictures because I think it would be pretty amazing as a parent to see their child displayed in this way,” Sanchez-Lane said. “They are taking part in something much bigger than themselves.”
She said the pictures show the true personalities of each student.
“Looking at some of these pictures of the students smiling, I can’t help but smile myself,” she said. “They are all very important to me and I hope these pictures remind them how important they are.”