The face of diversity: New Tech project pictures a welcoming community

June 28, 2018
The Republic

By Brian Blair

The face of diversity is plastered all over the front of Columbus Signature Academy – New Tech High School.

Nearly 50 portraits, each four feet tall by three feet wide, display in dramatic fashion faces of students from New Tech, Columbus East and Columbus North high schools, highlighting elements of diversity that are often hidden.

It’s called the Inside Out Project: Our Diverse Future.

Residents can see it for themselves by viewing the front of the school building at 2205 25th St., across from FairOaks Mall.

The display is meant to represent such obvious parts of diversity as race, ethnicity and country of origin, but also language, sexual orientation, gender identity and more, said art facilitator Treena Scism, whose 26 students in a two-dimension art class assembled the end-of the-school-year project. It will be up as long as the displays holds up amid outdoor weather elements.

The portrait-based Inside Out Projects, which began in 2011, are meant to transform messages of personal identity into works of art, according to the international website.

Students picked the diversity topic, and then solicited peers to volunteer for candid head-and-shoulder photos. The students coordinated and executed the physical display.

“If you were around only people who are just like you all the time, then probably no one would learn anything new,” said Olivia Keller, 17, an incoming CSA New Tech junior and local publicity coordinator for the project.

Worldwide, Inside Out Projects have highlighted multiple messages.

“Being around people with different backgrounds and experiences allows you to experience more yourself,” Keller said.

The student added that the diversity of Columbus, which is home of global firms such as Cummins Inc., makes welcoming people of all backgrounds and ethnicities especially significant.

Reflecting school values

One part of New Tech’s core beliefs and values focus on encouraging and flourishing diversity, honoring differences and instilling a strong sense of social responsibility that includes 100 hours of community service per student before graduation, Principal Mike Reed said.

“This probably couldn’t come at a better time, considering all the divisiveness in our country,” Reed said. “You hear so much today about school violence and tragedy. Our students wanted a voice and a way to say, ‘There’s a lot for us to celebrate.’”

The project’s intent is spelled out in its mission statement: “We hope to encourage our community members to celebrate differences in race, relations, gender, sexuality and all the other characteristics that make us human.”

Art facilitator Scism said she could not be more pleased with her class members’ teamwork or finished product. Discussion originally unfolded about placement of the display at various places around town. But students determined the high school building itself on a high-volume city street would serve as the best spot.

“There is so much traffic there and so much visibility that we all felt it could really reach out right there to a lot of people who would just be passing by,” Scism said. “And we figured if they wanted to know more, they could stop and read the didactic panels posted in the window for them.”

Keller said the project has generated attention and questions. One of the most frequently asked questions is whether the photos depict the school’s graduated seniors. They do not.

When the portraits begin to show excessively peeling, they will be pressure-washed away. But students hope that their larger-than-life message sticks with people far longer.

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