This week, a new Denver mural reflecting the faces and stories of the people who live here will pop up on Santa Fe Dr.
On Thursday morning, a bus designed to resemble a giant camera will stop in front of MSU’s Center for Visual Art. Denverites can show up to have their portrait taken as part of the Inside Out Project, a global initiative that gives participants the chance to tell their stories through public art. They’ll step inside the bus and sit for photo booth-style photos, which will print into larger-than-life black and white posters. The Inside Out team plans to wheat paste the portraits collage-style onto a CVA wall.
Inside Out’s photo booth bus is stopping in 16 cities across seven states to showcase America’s diversity through a “collective portrait” of the nation. And while everyone is invited to participate, the idea behind the project is to start conversations about immigration policy.
“These portraits remind us that behind the policies are real people with real stories that include all Americans — citizens, immigrants and indigenous,” the project’s website says. Denver is the 12th stop on the tour, which will finish in Washington D.C. on Sept. 14.
Inside Out was founded back in 2011 by French artist JR, who specializes in community-driven, participatory and publicly accessible art.
Initially, JR designed it as an international project offering participants a chance to share their own stories and messages through public art. The project has generated more than 415,000 portraits of people from 138 countries.,
This year, Congress is considering legislation that would provide protections and pathways to citizenship for millions of people, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, recipients, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, farmworkers and other essential workers. Recently, Inside Out has shifted to focus on immigration reform through its subproject, Inside Out 11M. The idea is to use the portraits to highlight the humanity and the stories behind the many individuals who would be impacted by these policies.
Cecily Cullen is the director and curator of the Center for Visual Art, an arts center affiliated with Metropolitan State University. The gallery was looking for new artwork to replace a crumbling Shepard Fairey mural, and Inside Out seemed like a good fit.
“Supporting Dreamers is a really important part of what CVA and MSU Denver represents,” Cullen said. MSU Denver is recognized as a Hispanic-Serving institution, with more than 25 percent of their student body identifying as Hispanic or Latinx.
“We know that there are a lot of families in Colorado that have roots outside of the US. And not all the students that we serve at MSU Denver are documented. We really want to support a pathway to citizenship for these folks in our community,” Cullen said. “Being able to have that conversation and talk about the challenges both that individuals face, and also the challenges that just exist to our legal system… This was a great way to do that.”
Cullen says that a large-scale public art project like this one has the potential to engage politicians and start conversations in the community about the challenges individuals face, and the challenges that exist in our legal system.
“That’s part of CVA’s mission, to promote dialogue around challenges that our society is facing,” Cullen said. “We really were hoping that we’ll get some great representation from the community and from MSU Denver students to come and show the faces of people of our community. And hopefully that will bring a sense of connection. They’re not just Dreamers. They’re not just DACA recipients, but there’s faces that we can connect with.”
You can participate in Inside Out by stopping by the photo booth bus, which will be parked outside the CVA on Thursday, Sept. 9 from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.