Spotlights
“Inside Out” project shows the true face of Milford Mill
04/28/2015

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For Milford Mill Academy junior Tatyanah Brutus and her classmates in Kristin Kotarski’s photography course, facing up to negative stereotypes through the “Inside Out” project meant doing just that.

They put their faces up.

All along the brick exterior walls of their school, they spent a sun-dappled afternoon recently plastering oversized portraits to the edifice, cheek to cheek, smiling or with a serious look, one after another. The effect of the poster art elicited smiles from curious passersby along Washington Avenue and, Tatyanah said, maybe a positive change of attitude, too.

“Our school sometimes has had a bad reputation,” she said. “But [my portrait] shows I’m still happy, even though I go through things here. I grow here. I learn here. I have friends here.”

Added classmate Che Hamilton, also a junior at Milford Mill, “This shows you can’t stereotype a school; you can’t stereotype any group of people. [Inside Out] shows the personalities of the students here.”

Milford Mill Academy is the only school in Baltimore County to participate in the international “Inside Out” project, according to school Principal Roderick Harden, and only the fourth school in Maryland. And, with 70 participating students, it’s easily the largest such project in the state as well.

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The idea is simple: students blow up black-and-white photographs of themselves and plaster the images on the school’s exterior walls, much as old advertisements were pasted to buildings in past eras.

Created by the French photographer JR in 2007 as a global participatory art project, “Inside Out” was the result of JR’s desire to change the world by turning it “inside out.” Inspired by JR’s large-format, black-and-white street pastings, the project seeks to focus attention on the portrait subject and his or her story. More than 200,000 people in 112 nations have taken part in the project.

Kotarski saw the project as a way of celebrating the Milford Mill student body. Prior to mounting the art, her students created a mission statement for the project that reads, “ Milford Mill Academy wants to be seen as a creative, high achieving, and outstanding high school with diverse and determined students. We want to change the outlook of the school from negative to positive in our community.”

“A lot of times, I hear our students having a negative perception of themselves or the school. But I find that so many of my students are extremely smart, they participate in activities outside of school such as sports, theater, or after-school jobs, and so there’s really a lot that we need to showcase and be proud of here at Milford Mill Academy,” Kotarski said. “The Inside Out project is awesome because we’re able to show our students, who are inside the building, outside to the community, to anybody who is driving by. I hope they see that Milford Mill is an awesome high school and that we have a lot of really smart, amazing students here.

Principal Harden agrees, saying he “jumped right on this project” after he learned how it had helped change perceptions elsewhere. When JR used it in the Middle East, for instance, it helped to dispel many stereotypes that Israelis and Palestinians had about one another.

“What it showed them was that everyone came from the same background,” said Hamilton. “They couldn’t tell who was from Israel and who was from Palestine.”

Senior Christian Banks said he signed up to participate in Inside Out because “as the years go by, I want to look back when I see that picture on all the good times here and some of the bad ones, too.” He added, “Some people might say, ‘Why would they put all these pictures on the wall?’ Well, I think they’ll see what great kids there are here, and how much they learned by attending this school.”

Even if the impact is slight, it will help to promote and celebrate Milford Mill Academy, Kotarski added. “I hope [Inside Out] changes peoples’  outlook from whatever it was before to thinking about Milford Mill as school that is really awesome with great kids,” she said. “Seeing the students’ smiling faces, people will know that we do a lot here and that there is a lot to be proud of.”

For more photos of the Inside Out Project at Milford Mill Academy, visit the BCPS Flickr page.

Story and photos by Charles Herndon, BCPS communications specialist
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