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'Portrait Project' Lets Underserved Teens Imagine Their Dream Futures

By Irene Plagianos | August 28, 2015 2:57pm | Updated on August 30, 2015 10:01pm
 An image of
An image of "Youngmichael" a teen who works with Art Start's Youth Offender Outreach program, shows his creative vision — helping others see that their dreams, however big, can far exceed their surroundings.
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Portrait by Tom McKenzie

SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — Take a stroll through Cannon's Walk, a historic corridor in the South Street Seaport, and you'll see — and hear — the dreams of some city teenagers determined to make a better life for themselves.

The "Portrait Project," a new, immersive installation, paired underserved teens with photographers, allowing them to envision what they hope their futures will look like through stylized portraits, along with personal statements next to each image.

The voices of the young people featured in the pictures, talking about how they feel and what they want to accomplish, interspersed with music, also echo through the picturesque courtyard, behind 206 Front St. "Everything I've been through and that I'm going through right now is making me a better person," says one teen.

One young woman named Fleur, an immigrant from Burundi, wears a feathery mask, and white gown in her photograph, and says she wants to be a supermodel — "And maybe an actress. And a lawyer. I think that would be good, too." She wears the mask, she says, because she doesn't want the world to see that she's in a youth homeless shelter.

Portrait by Natalie Brasington

Another teen, Melanie, from The Bronx, has her dream of becoming a nurse captured in the large photograph, as she stands tall, high above the city skyline, wearing scrubs and brandishing a stethoscope. The 18-year-old is studying to become a nurse as she lives in a homeless shelter.

Portrait by Zachary Maxwell Stertz

The experience of having a photographer focus on her, and having her hair and makeup done professionally for the first time, made her feel special, she said in her personal statement. But her favorite moment was wearing the scrubs. "I could image myself at the hospital helping people," she said. "Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

The exhibit, on display through Dec. 30, is a collaboration of Art Start, an organization that runs creative workshops for homeless and underserved young people, as well as engineering group Arup, which has its offices in the Seaport.

For more information, head to Art Start's website.