Caldera (Portland, OR)

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    Older man and student with arms around each others' shoulders, standing before a display of large separate banners of photos of themselves

Ron McDowell (left), a union iron worker in Portland, and Nathan Tran, a student at Binnsmead Middle School in Portland, stand in front of the banners Tran made after interviewing McDowell for Caldera’s exhibition, Hello Neighbor Project. Photo courtesy of Caldera.

Young people living in Portland and central Oregon are fortunate to have the arts organization Caldera in their region. With a mission of encouraging artistic creativity for underserved youth in Oregon, Caldera offers art experiences through which youth can gain a sense of who they are and who they might become. Low-income students begin in sixth grade and remain connected to the organization throughout high school, college, and into their careers. The students attend summer retreats where they work with professional artists in disciplines such as dance, music, theater, and creative writing. The artists continue working with the youth throughout the school year.

Caldera received an NEA Learning in the Arts grant of $75,000 in FY 2007 for the year-long project, Perspectives in Photography. One hundred-and-sixty students, ages 11 to 18, worked with professional artists and writers to develop their artistic skills. They attended lectures by professional photographers and operated professional-level digital cameras. At the end of their sessions, students exhibited the work in their community.

The most significant public exhibition during Perspectives in Photography was the Hello Neighbor Project. Caldera students identified, interviewed, and photographed an array of neighbors in their local communities, all of different backgrounds, ages, and races. Students then created photo-word portraits of the people that were printed on large vinyl banners and displayed around their communities. There were 108 banners in total, promoting a dialogue among community members.

The project also gave the students a sense of accomplishment and belonging to their community. Nine communities were involved in the project. Caldera students, artists, and staff unveiled the banners and led community members on a walking tour to see each artwork. Through programs like Perspectives in Photography, Caldera helps awaken the students’ creativity, promote self confidence, reveal possible career paths, and bring about long-lasting relationships.

(From the NEA 2007 Annual Report)