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Foster Child Photos at Children's Museum Help Match Kids with Families

 An exhibition on display May 8-31, 2013 at the Children's Museum of the Arts shows portraits of children in need of adoptive parents, taken by photographers who usually shoot celebrities.
Heart Gallery NYC Exhibition at the Children's Museum of the Arts
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MANHATTAN — About two years ago, a man considering adoption happened upon an image online of a boy looking for a home. The professionally shot photograph showed 11-year-old Nicholas, a youngster he thought had expressive, sad eyes.

A year later, after a first meeting playing cards together followed by months of administrative hurdles, the man and the boy in the photo are father and son.

Social service organizations and the city's Administration for Children's Services will try to make more adoptive parent-child matches in Hudson Square starting Wednesday, when a new exhibition of photographs of foster children goes on display at the Children's Museum of the Arts.

New York City kids living with foster families — like a 9-year-old boy shown with his arms protectively wrapped around his 6-year-old sister — got the red-carpet treatment when they had their portraits taken by photographers including Deborah Feingold and Len Irish, who usually shoot celebrities for magazine covers.

"Here's a photographer who was one day working for Angelina Jolie, and the next day they're photographing a kid for free to help him find a family," said Laurie Sherman Graff, the executive director of exhibition co-sponsor Heart Gallery NYC.

"They really work on bringing the individuality and spirit of the child into the photo, and that really does reach out to people," she added.

Heart Gallery NYC, part of a national project started in 2001, has displayed since 2006 photographs of children in search of "forever families," as the group phrases it.

About a third of the children photographed are placed in adoptive families after they are featured in photo exhibitions, Graff said. Heart Gallery NYC refers potential adoptive parents to agencies that work with the state to screen families and determine their compatibility with one of the 12,800 foster children in the city. 

Wallace Seay, a director for exhibition co-sponsor the Catholic Guardian Society and Home Bureau — which helps match youth and new families — said the photo shoots help raise kids' confidence.

"I've seen very shy children blossom during a photo shoot," he said. "It empowers the children and give them a sense of hope and well-being."

Through the end of May, which is National Foster Care Month, the photographs will be part of the "Face to Face" exhibit of youth portraits at the 103 Charlton St. museum.

CMA director of community programs Rachel Rapoport said the Heart Gallery NYC exhibit meshed well with the museum's existing programming for families using the foster system.

Art-making and creativity helps families "bond, interact and play together," she said in a statement.

More than a dozen youth photographed plus several families considering adoption are scheduled to attend a private exhibition debut event Tuesday.

"Some of the people there might be good matches for the kids there," Graff added. "Fingers crossed."

The Children's Museum of the Arts at 103 Charlton St. near Hudson Street is open Monday and Wednesday noon to 5 p.m., Thursday and Friday noon to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed Tuesday. Admission costs $11 per person, with free entry for seniors and infants under a year old. Admission is pay what you wish on Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m.