Lesson of the Day: ‘How 17 Outsize Portraits Rattled a Small Southern Town’

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Lesson of the Day: ‘How 17 Outsize Portraits Rattled a Small Southern Town’

6. What is your reaction to the reception of the portraits by the people of Newnan? How did their reaction compare to yours from the warm-up activity? What does the controversy say about the current state of American communities and how they deal with diversity and change?

7. The article concludes:

Ms. Meehan’s portraits, which will come down in June, have already had a lasting effect on the town. They have prompted deep conversations between people who had never met. “The truth is, these conversations are hard and uncomfortable and awkward but we need to lean into it,” said the Rev. David Jones II, the pastor of Newnan Presbyterian Church, who plans to use the art installation to organize a retreat about race, gender and identity this year. “We need to talk about who lives in our community and if they are different, why does that make us uncomfortable?”

In what ways do you think the project met its goals? Do you think the conversations prompted by the portraits are productive and healthy ones? What “uncomfortable” conversations do you think your own community needs to have? Explain why.

Choose one of the following activities:

1) Analyze and respond to a portrait featured in the article.

Look through the portraits in the article. Select one and consider some of the following questions from our Critiquing a Photograph worksheet:

  • What is the subject of this image? What is the setting?

  • What draws you to this image? How does it engage the viewer?

  • What feeling or feelings does it evoke? What ideas or themes does it suggest? What mood or tone does it set?

  • What story does it tell about the community of Newnan?

2) Design a public art work to represent your community.

Feel free to choose photographs, murals, sculpture or other forms of artistic expression.

Build on your brainstorm from the warm-up activity and consider what aspects of your community you would want to represent — people, places, ideas or feelings.

Consider the impact you would like to have on your community. Mr. Hancock said: “I just felt like we were living apart. We were in these little bubbles. I thought this project could pierce the bubbles.” Would you want to celebrate your community? Challenge it? What kind of conversations would you want to start?

Make a sketch (or sketches) of your public art work. Include an explanation of the piece, including the goals, the medium and materials you would use and where you would want it to be displayed. If time permits, present your sketch to your class.