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Can Art Help Change the Way We Perceive Communities?

At a recent event here in Boston, Jeanne bumped into a local photographer, Alicia Carlson, who works with a group called Peace in Focus (PIF). It's a non-profit organization that uses photography and grassroots media tools to help teach teens from under-served and post-conflict communities around the world to become what they call "creative peacebuilders and leaders." Since we're always talking about community and citizenship here at Daily Grommet, I especially appreciated and admired what they're doing, and invited Alicia to share PIF's story with you. Today, she's joining us to talk about a project they're launching this month, Virtual Corners (and if you're a photography fan, don't miss their Monthly International Competition -- there are some really impressive submissions here!).

If you are a patron of the 66 bus line, you may have recently encountered a group of 10-15 year old students with cameras and notepads in hand on a recent Saturday morning.  Hungry to absorb, examine, and comprehend the neighborhoods along the route, they approach people with a handful of questions - everything from "Where are you from?" to "What's one word to describe you and why?", to "What do you think about this place and how to you think people outside the community view it?".

These students are part of the Boston based international non-profit Peace in Focus.  Founded in 2007 by Kyle Dietrich and Kate Fedosova, the organization aims to create social change by engaging youth in a dialogue about peace in their own lives and their communities.  The core philosophy lies in strengthening the role of photography and arts in non-violence and reconciliation work.  The group is creating visual content for a public art project created by John Ewing called Virtual Corners, which seeks to break down the divide and distance between two very diverse communities.  The residents of Dudley Square in Roxbury and Coolidge Corner in Brookline rarely interact with each other even though the MBTA's 66 bus route connects them.

Peace in Focus participants are encouraged to examine the differences they notice along the route, the contrast between businesses in each neighborhood, and how being from a particular place ties in with a person's identity.  PIF's spring institute co-facilitator Danielle Martin says that one of the most obvious changes along the route are the riders:  "Most people who boarded the bus at Dudley Square got off before it reached Brigham Circle.  And the same was true when we took the bus from Coolidge Corner back to Dudley.  For many of the participants, it was their first time visiting Brookline. The youth come from all over the city, and several travel quite a bit for school, and one of the big points we're trying to overcome when we talk about local conflict is the block by block or neighborhood by neighborhood differences."

The participants are photographing what people don't typically notice in an attempt to break down negative impressions Bostonians have - they are photographing the beautiful things each community holds within them.  They hope to encourage residents to travel outside of their familiar home communities and explore what other neighborhoods have to offer.  And perhaps through their work, residents in Roxbury and Brookline will come together because of the one major thing they have in common - they are all Bostonians.

To learn more about Peace in Focus, please visit http://www.peaceinfocus.org. Virtual Corners will have interactive stations set up in Dudley Square and Coolidge Corner for the month of June.

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