Wynwood acted as the artistic subject for 25 high school students from the Miami-Dade Public School System as they told their stories through photography last weekend's Play To Win Foundation's Through My Lens: Art is Life photography workshop. The teenagers, who came from Allapattah and Overtown, worked with photography mentors to hone their talents with technology courtesy of Microsoft and further support from Nike.
The special student photography show was a preview to the FUSION MIA African American Masters exhibit featuring the BET Art Lounge during Art Basel Miami Beach from December 3-7, which will showcase and exhibit works by African American artists, including Al Loving, Rashid Jones, Ed Clark, among others.
The workshop over the weekend included seminars and talks by Jumaane N'Namdi of N'Namdi Gallery, Nike brand director Stanley Lumax, Miami Herald's Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Carl Juste and Miami Herald staff photographer and former Military Photographer of the Year C.W. Griffin. The teens' photography, taken on Nokia Lumia 1020 cameras gifted by Microsoft executive Thom Gruhler, will also be shown during the Through My Lens exhibit.
Everyone involved with the workshop were happy to give back to the community and its teens. "I mean, it's kind of like why not?" said Bernard Bowen of the Play To Win Foundation. "It's an opportunity to give some kids direction in regards to life, mentorship...I think it's great because it's another outlet. Usually, you hear kids [getting] into sports, basketball, football, it's all these other things. But you don't hear too much about...people doing stuff for kids in regards to photography. So, I think it's something different, it's needed, and it gives kids another outlet to express themselves."
Lumax, who was participating in the event out of his personal love for photography and community outreach, said he was excited to inspire the teens with his journey and help them relate their stories to others. "Being a photographer and being a child that, growing up, didn't have any guidance in terms of creativity, I really always thought it was important to engage with the community in terms of kids and community," he said.
The power of mentorship was also important to Juste. "First of all, I've always been a person who's always been engaged in the community and this program offered a wonderful gateway to utilize my talents and skill sets and also to collaborate with children that look like myself," he said. "I think as a mentor, we have to be more than doorstops. We have to not only hold the door open, but we have to break down many other doors. As we migrate from being a group that's underserved, we must operate on the premise that we're here to serve."
Juste, who will also have several shows during Art Basel and curates for Urban Arts, spoke about how importance of bringing new voices into the artistic fold. "Now these kids can see themselves as part of this greater conversation that reflects their humanity and their experiences," he said. "These young minds of color should have equal access to the art conversation... We cannot leave our children behind. Not all our children can be basketball players, golfers [or] musicians. We have to offer various other venues so that they, once they become successful, they can support the very thing that they wished to become.
Elijah Wells, an 11th grader from Miami Arts Charter School, was one of the teens who attended the workshop. "I think it's amazing -- just the fact that big corporations like Nike and Microsoft can actually do things like this for the inner-city kids because we never have things like this happen," he said. "So, for them to say, 'Let's get a group of kids from the inner-city, give them a camera and go out and basically tell the story of their community through photos,' I feel like it's a great experience and a great program that they have."
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Having his work shown at Art Basel will be a dream come true for Wells, whose interest in photography stems from his love of film. "...I love Art Basel. I always dreamed of having art...shown [there], and to hopefully get the opportunity to show my work at Art Basel, it'd just be a blessing, and just being in this program is a blessing. For that to happen, it'd be so amazing."
Wendy Norman, head of Skype's Social Good Programs for Microsoft, said Microsoft was intrigued by offering students like Wells the opportunity to explore their world through the intersection of art and technology. "When you put a device in a child's hands, they have the opportunity to take the potential they have inside them and use it to capture images from video to show how they see the world, there's nothing like it," she said. "...I really hope that what they learn today is how to express their passion, whether it's dance, music, photography."
FusionMIA 2014 African American Abstract Masters exhibit featuring the BET Art Lounge begins December 3 at Mana Wynwood Production Village (318 NW 23rd St., Miami) and lasts until December 7. Admission to the BET Art Lounge is free. Visit fusionmia.com.