Tuesday, June 6, 2023
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Local African American Communities Lifted Up in Exhibition Dedicated to #BlackLivesMatter

Kristianna in the Doorway of J.W. Wright Building, DeLand, Florida – Photograph by Naomi Graham (2019) As part of a Storytellers field trip, the teen photographers were able to witness the restoration process underway at the historic J.W. Wright Building. When completed in 1921, the redbrick building represented the first collaborative business venture in DeLand’s African-American community. Future plans for the large facility will include use for small businesses, community nonprofit organizations, art spaces and home for a local heritage collection of photographs, artifacts and oral histories.

A teen documentary photography project, Storytellers 18: See Through Our Eyes, will be open to the public starting Tuesday, June 9th at the Hannibal Square Heritage Center in Winter Park. A Virtual Opening Reception & Gallery Talk will be held online Saturday June 20th, via the Center’s Facebook page from noon to 2pm and the project will be on exhibition through August 1st. The opening is coinciding with its virtual showing of the fifth annual Juneteenth Celebration, which commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States. This newest exhibition at the Heritage Center is dedicated to Black Lives Matter.

Nine local teens documented their historic African American community in DeLand – a small town in the heart of Central Florida founded nearly 150 years ago – through photography, in a partnership between the African American Museum of the Arts in DeLand and Crealdé School of Art in Winter Park.

Since 1996, the Crealdé Storytellers Teen Photography Program has given photography instruction to students ages 13 to 17, providing the opportunity for self-expression while exploring the heritage of their community. From Orlando’s urban Parramore neighborhood to suburban Sanford and Apopka to rural Geneva and coastal New Smyrna Beach, teens from around Central Florida have completed 18 photographic documentary exhibitions to date. Storytellers 17 and 18 projects were completed in Volusia County, and the finished exhibition is available to travel to museums, galleries and community centers.

“This exhibition is timely for what is happening in black communities locally and globally, around the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and other black people whose lives where taken unjustly. Black people want to be seen and heard, and Crealdé has made this a part of its mission for over 20 years,” said Barbara Chandler, Hannibal Square Heritage Center Manager. “I would like Storytellers 18: See Through Our Eyes to help heal and restore black people from the trauma we have repeatedly experienced and witnessed in our communities.”

Project creator and Crealdé Executive Director Peter Schreyer mentored and instructed the teens in visual and narrative storytelling using traditional film-based photography. Schreyer is an award-winning photographer and educator who has documented Florida’s changing cultural landscape and lesser-known history for more than three decades. It is his hope that the Storytellers project and his own work will continue to motivate others to become more aware of, explore, and respect their own community’s rich history and heritage.

“Finding your place in life and society can be a very difficult process. The camera can help these young people experience and explore some of these things,” said Schreyer. “Photography isn’t something that’s right or wrong or something that’s in a formula or textbook. The young documentarians are showing us a window to their community and are creating an irreplaceable record for the future.”

During the 10-week intensive program, the teens learned how to use a 35mm camera and how to tell compelling stories through documentary photography from their Crealdé instructor, with the goal of exploring and capturing the heritage of their African American community in DeLand.

“It was a pleasure to be a part of this project and it was vital to document our community’s history through photographs,” said Audrey Fletcher-Lee, Greater Union First Baptist Church and Project Assistant. “By visually seeing our past and our future, we recognize and honor our children, our elders, and our community.”

This is the 18th project that has been mentored by Crealdé professional instructors and photographers through the Storytellers program. The Storytellers program is a grant-supported project that is offered at no cost to the participants, and with all materials and equipment provided. Storytellers 18 was funded through a private gift from the Crealdé membership and a grant from the English Speaking Union.

The archival exhibition of 20 framed photographs consists of works by teens from the local DeLand community including Rosalee Gilbert, Kenneth Jackson, Kristianna Holcombe, Myah Robinson, Naomi Graham, Jaquavion Gaines, Jada Edwards, Kendall Brown Jr. and Tavahny Gardner, and from their mentor Peter Schreyer.

The Hannibal Square Heritage Center is located at 642 W. New England Ave., Winter Park, FL 32789. Until the center resumes its normal operating hours this summer, please schedule a private tour by calling Hannibal Square Heritage Center Manager Barbara Chandler at 321-594-3922 or email [email protected]

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