Sept. 21, 2018


LIVES ON DISPLAY – Students from Simon Youth Academy at Circle Centre Mall, an IPS alternative school, will debut autobiographical photographs in an exhibition opening September 27. 

Religion, teen pregnancy, violence, immigration status, mother-daughter relationships, shyness. Students in Ronald Hanson’s photography class at Simon Youth Academy (SYA) at Circle Centre Mall reveal their inner-most thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams in a new pop-up exhibition titled “Behind a Closed Book: Untold Stories of Simon Youth Academy’s Future Graduates.”

The exhibition kicks off Sept. 27, with an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m., and features works by 10 SYA students in a third-floor storefront inside Circle Centre Mall — across from Banana Republic.

Offering a deeper look into the lives of each student, it runs Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Nov. 7.

SYAImoca Exhibit

Hanson, who worked with the students on their project, is proud of their honesty and fearlessness.

“Through this process, I’ve learned how uninhibited and how honest they are,” he said. “I’m really pleased with how they weren’t afraid to choose their subjects.”

Tania G., 17, and Kaleah S., 16, said they want the audience to experience what they go through in their daily lives, so opening up wasn’t that difficult.

In the exhibit, Tania focuses on being a DACA student (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or “a Dreamer”) and how she lives in fear of being removed from her family.

“I look like everybody else, but I am in more danger in a lot of ways than everybody else,” said Tania. “There’s always a ‘what if’ in my life. I want people to see that I’m scared — even though I don’t show it, because you shouldn’t show your fear — I definitely am terrified at times. And if people are against DACA, I want them to think, ‘Wow! What if this was me? I wouldn’t want to be that scared.’”

Kaleah’s 11 photographs depict the violence in her eastside neighborhood, around 21st Street and Arlington Avenue. Images focus on a roadside memorial and familiar landmarks. She was inspired by the death of a young neighborhood kid, who was killed while trying to break up a fight.

“That inspired me to look at the things that happen in my neighborhood — the stuff that makes us come together and the things that tear us apart as we try to get to the places where we want to go,” said Kaleah. “(Through these images) I’m bringing peace to people and hopefully bringing the community back together and showing that we can settle things without gun violence.”

SYAImoca Exhibit

“Behind a Closed Book” sprang from a partnership between Simon Youth Foundation and the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (IMOCA). The museum has partnered with local organizations to produce pop-up art galleries, and the partnership with SYA students was a natural fit, according to Lauren Rapp, director of communications at the foundation.

“There was a great synergy with students at the Academy,” said Rapp. “(The museum) has a focus on photography and digital media, just like the high school. We asked them what they thought about doing a pop-up with students and having the pop-up actually be at the mall.”

IMOCA is an enthusiastic partner. They brought in artists and held workshops to give the students additional experience in autobiographical photography, which is a focus of the exhibit, and previous graduates came in to help current students develop their skills.

Simon Youth Foundation, meanwhile, secured an unused storefront space in Circle Centre Mall, entering into a temporary lease through the duration of the exhibit. The foundation will cover the cost of the lease, giving students a space to hold their exhibition.

For the students, the exhibit is an opportunity to learn about the value of building relationships and partnerships with outside organizations, Rapp said.

“You think you can do what you see, and for many of these students it’s their first opportunity to see that it’s someone’s job to take photos, or put them up in the gallery, and design an experience for the people who see art,” Rapp added. “And they see it’s an option to see the opportunities they have in those fields.”

For Simon Youth Foundation, it’s another chance to expand its mission with regard to the SYA, which is to provide a top-notch, innovative educational experience for its students. SYA is an alternative IPS school that seeks to provide a uniquely tailored non-traditional learning environment for students, many of whom have specialized educational needs.

“Behind a Closed Door” features work by the following students, who will also participate in the curation of the gallery — with each working a shift at the exhibit, maintaining the displays, and answering questions from visitors and attendees:

  • Wilman (Daniel) A.
  • Alejandro F.
  • Getzemani G.
  • Christian G.
  • Tania G.
  • Hector H.
  • Estefany M.
  • Gustavo M.
  • Adam R.
  • Kaleah S.