Photo art illustrates outer East Portland social concerns

Find out why so many residents of Leander Court participated in this project, and what they – and the community – learned from it …

Residents and guests come to see the results of the Leander Court PhotoVoice project, which illustrates both health and social concerns involving the housing complex.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
With the help of Portland State University graduate students, residents of ROSE Community Development (CDC) Corporation’s Leander Court, on SE 122nd Avenue, got involved in a “PhotoVoice” project.

The idea was to equip residents with cameras, and have them photograph their own environment, with an eye to what contributes to either more robust, or less healthy, conditions. This “Health Lens” came from a Northwest Health Foundation grant “to engage the community in the conversation about planning issues, from the perspective of creating a physical environment that helps promote health and wellness.”

ROSE CDC Executive Director Nick Sauvie welcomes participants and guests to the Leander Court PhotoVoice art show.

While helping get the exhibition ready to open on June 9, Han Tran, Asset Coordinator at ROSE CDC, said that about 15 residents participated in the project. “It is important, because there is a lot of health disparity in East Portland.  We need to bring awareness to this issue.”

At the formal opening, ROSE CDC Executive Director Nick Sauvie welcomed attendees, and restated that the mission of his organization is to “create opportunities that better peoples’ lives in outer East Portland”. He then introduced Michell Showalter, the primary spokesperson for the event.

“The object was to highlight community health issues through photographs,” Showalter, a Leander Court resident, began. “And to also present these issues in a positive and effective way, to help make change in our community. When we got involved in the project, we didn’t realize what it was all about – we thought were going to learn to take pictures!

“We learned a lot more,” Showalter continued.

Leander Court resident, and PhotoVoice project participant, Michell Showalter tells about the experience.

Showalter pointed out that the art show pointed out many issues and concerns they’d discovered while working on the project. During the process, Showalter pointed out, they had met weekly to share and communicate their progress and concerns.

“We shared about how we would also relate to safety issues in our community. Then we categorized them in the areas of need, and brainstormed how we could best advocate for these needs, as shown in our photos.”

These topics included:

  • More community involvement,
  • More sidewalks,
  • Safety patrols at the beginning and end of school hours, and at night
  • More activities to youth, and
  • Turning empty spaces into areas that are community projects such as a community garden.
  • “We enjoyed working together, and we thank the Portland State University students who collected the data that reflect our concerns,” Showalter concluded.

Other participants said that there were many more photos chosen than were displayed.

Their process, they said, was to go out and take photos of what they saw within a one mile radius of Leander Court. After the photos were taken, they sorted the images into categories of concern.

“What’s this store?” was the question her young son asked PhotoVoice participant Michelle Showalter, when walking past this adult entertainment establishment at SE 122nd Avenue and SE Holgate Boulevard. She took the photo to illustrate what “services” are available almost across the street from where they live.

Photographic prints from the project are available for sale, Sauvie added. For more information, see the official ROSE CDC website: CLICK HERE.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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