Community Celebrates New Art at Roger W. 'Pip' Moyer Community Recreation Center
The project helped high school students learning English as a second language find new ways to express themselves and feel part of the Annapolis community.
A few months ago, 17-year-old Dmitry Maximov, who moved to Annapolis from Penza, Russia less than a year ago, had never used a digital camera.
Today, several of his images hang on the wall for all to see at the Roger W. “Pip” Moyer Community Recreation Center.
His photos, along with those taken by about 24 other Annapolis High School English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students, were unveiled during a ceremony Sunday afternoon. Another one adorns the front of the building and can be seen by drivers passing by.
The project was part of a collaborative effort between Vision Workshops' Crossing Borders program, the Annapolis Recreation and Parks Department, ArtWalk and several other community groups. It focused on a theme of soccer, a sport that’s popular and appreciated in many countries across the world. Those involved also noted the theme was a good fit for art that would be at the rec center.
Starting in October, once a week students met with photographer Allison Harbaugh of Vision Workshops for a photography lesson. Then, for three or four Sundays, they went to soccer matches at Annapolis Middle School and documented the games through photos.
Shelley Hartford, ESOL Department Chair for Annapolis High School, said one of the most exciting days for many of the students was the day they first got to use the cameras. Many of them were surprised to learn that they’d get to keep the camera for a month and take it home with them. She said that responsibility really made them believe in the program.
And as a result, Hartford said the students began to develop a “sense of pride in themselves...as artists.”
“I think that was the most important thing for the kids is that they got a real confidence boost by participating in the program in addition to learning about art and learning the skill of photography,” Hartford said.
Kirsten Elstner, executive director of Vision Workshops, echoed that sentiment.
She said the location of the recreation center—a community hub—combined with the presence of the mayor and other community leaders at the event and the public support for these children, their art and their stories, helped them develop a sense of community in Annapolis.
“People say, ‘Do you think they’re gonna be photographers?’ and maybe, but that’s not really what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to give them a positive educational experience and an experience that helps integrate them into their community," Elstner said.
And for Dmitry that appeared to be the case.
He said when he moved to the country more than six months ago he had to start all over. He said his involvement in the project helped him feel more relaxed here and helped him prove to himself that he could do something in his new home.
“I can do something here. I can do something in the United States,” he said.
It also helped him express himself as he and many of the other students involved in the project, continue to develop their skills in their second language. Along with the photography, students participated in journaling and writing exercises as a way to express their thoughts and feelings.
They also did that through the photos they took.
“It’s just an amazing opportunity to express yourself,” Dmitry said.
To explain how he felt, he translated a Russian phrase: “First you choose the way, then the way will choose you.”
The students’ excitement was apparent.
Elstner noted that one of the students asked why the mayor was there. When she told him it was to see their work, he was excited, Elstner noted.
That excitement continued as many of them got to bring new soccer balls home with them. Along with the art component of the project, Vince Harriman, who started Big Goals, helped collect about 500 soccer balls to distribute to many organizations in the community.
Sally Wern Comport, curator for ArtWalk and owner of Art at Large, Inc., worked with Elstner to edit down the photos from more than 20,000 images to the ones decorating the rec center today.
She was also responsible for working with Elstner to select a photo that was “digitally reproduced in large scale—14 by 17 feet—and installed on the Hilltop lane side” of the building, according to Jessica McCarthy, events and public relations director for ArtWalk.
“It’s always a joy to see the artists, the students themselves, see their own work. And they’re proud of it as they should be, and I love to see that. That’s the best part about it,” Comport said.