New Harmony High Students Use Photography to Imagine the Future

A photographer takes an image of a person sitting on a stoop wearing heart-shaped sunglasses and rainbow-colored sleeves.

A photograph by Sanjay Jones that is part of the collaborative project What Is Harmony?

In 2018, New Harmony High School opened with a new model centering self-directed learning and a goal to restore harmony with the local environment. Building on an ongoing collaboration between New Harmony and the New Orleans Photo Alliance, this spring NOMA collaborated with local students to explore the fundamentals of photography and curating with some of the city’s foremost artists. The culmination of this project, What Is Harmony?, is on view to the public on an exterior fence outside of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden starting this July.

Central to New Harmony High’s vision is connecting with each other and the environment in order to restore a sense of balance that has been lost in coastal communities, and to find new ways of sustaining ourselves in an uncertain future. According to Charles Baptiste Whitaker, an English teacher at New Harmony who helped lead the project, “In a world ravaged by pandemic, overwhelmed by systemic injustices, and on the brink of catastrophic climate change, it’s clear we have to rethink how we interact with each other and the natural environment.”

With the goal of reflecting on what it means to find balance with ourselves, our communities, and the environment through the medium of photography, this collaboration inspired and empowered students to create and share art to affect change. Sophomore students from New Harmony High took inspiration from their world literature curriculum and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. They looked at Achebe’s rich and layered portrayal of Igbo culture—and the violence endured through colonialism—to consider how we can collectively build a more sustainable future.

In addition to reading and discussing Things Fall Apart, the students attended lessons from local artists focused on photography, ecology, community engagement, and mental health in order to re-see the world around them, ask questions, and share their perspectives. Weekly workshops and artist-led photo prompts were provided by from Monique Verdin, Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes, Aubrey Edwards, Lisa Cates, Brittany Lindsey, and Cody Ainey—in addition to NOMA’s Community Engagement Curator Nic Brierre Aziz. These workshops culminated in the collaborative photo narrative exploring related themes that is displayed in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

About the Collaboration

This project is a part of the Creative Assembly initiative and is a partnership between NOMA, New Harmony High School, and the New Orleans Photo Alliance. Creative Assembly is a community engagement initiative by the New Orleans Museum of Art that facilitates community-generated art projects and programs in New Orleans neighborhood spaces and at the museum. The initiative brings together community members, artists, partner organizations, and museum staff, using neighborhood-based participatory art experiences as a vehicle for personal exploration, community collaboration, and social change.

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