Banner Project Puts Face To Youth Voices

Markeshia Ricks PhotoNext up: We are a city of youth.

On the heels of an art installation on the Green that declared “We Are: A Nation of Immigrants”, a new installation is going up on buildings throughout the city declaring that the youth of the city matter.

As part of an “I Matter” photo series, photographer Rob Goldman has teamed up with New Haven to display banner-sized photos of his work throughout the city featuring portraits of teens and young adults throughout the city and a statement from each of them about their self-worth.

Goldman described the project Thursday during an unveiling of two of the eventual 100 banners that will go up not just downtown, but throughout the city. The first two banners went up Thursday on the side of the CenterPointe Complex owned by Michael and Tony Schaffer of C.A. White Inc, which owns several buildings downtown. The banners are on the building that is home to the Dollar Tree store on Chapel Street. NHR Properties will host the next set of banners at the corner of Orange and Chapel streets on the side of the building that is home to Tikkaway.

“I’ve been working on the I matter project for six years and we’ve had smaller installations at different colleges and libraries,” Goldman said. “The idea that a city is now behind the project is just an incredible experience for me.”

He said the project is designed to educate the public through the voices and faces of young people to start a conversation about the challenges they face. He said giving space traditionally reserved for advertising to young people to express themselves is a way of selling hope instead of products.

“This is more of a way to engage in conversation with our kids, not for parents to talk about their kids,” he said.  “A really key piece of my ask is ‘Let’s look at young people as young people and people who have a voice and mind and have a lot to say.”

Mayor Toni Harp said her administration has worked to tackle the transitional needs of the city’s youth. That’s why the city has developed programs like Youth Stat, revitalized the Police Activity League, and implemented restorative practices throughout the school district to address disciplinary matters. Other programs that have been implemented to engage the city’s youth include a three-on-three basketball tournament in the summer and a Microsoft coding camp.

“All of this activity is meant to provide safe, supervised, productive outlets for the youthful energy, creativity, and exuberance of the city’s
young people,” she said.

She called the “I Matter” project an artistic and public way for young people in the city to talk about the challenges they face and to spur a public conversation about those challenges and the angst they feel because of them.

“It’s quite literally ‘dangerous’ for young people these days to internalize their thoughts, feelings, and inclinations that can lead to anti-social and even self-destructive behavior,” she said. “‘I Matter’ is meant to provide an external outlet for these negative leanings and provide for young people a different perspective so they can work to ‘right-size’ the challenges they face.

“As mayor, I’m so proud New Haven is hosting this initiative, and I applaud the partnership among Youth Services and the artistic directors for their
collaboration,” she added.

Michael Shaffer of C.A. White Inc. and his brother Tony Shaffer were approached to participate in the “I Matter” project. His family has invested in the city for almost 100 years; they considered this was another way to give back. (Shaffer owns the Centerpointe building at Church and Chapel.)

“We are glad to do this to help the city,” he said. “It’s important that all owners and individuals participate in making this a stronger better community.”

“We appreciate this,” he added. “It wasn’t a very pretty façade to start off with and we think this adds immensely to the building that is important to this community and our downtown.”

Goldman, who moved to Guilford from Long Island, said the vision for the project is for it to grow to a national presence. Prior to New Haven signing on to host a citywide version, the project was exhibited in smaller venues. He said another component of the citywide project is to put illuminated towers with similar images of local youth and young adults on Dixwell Avenue.

The idea is to put the faces not only downtown but also in the neighborhoods where they come from to create a sense of pride in the community. The images downtown are also about reclaiming space for New Haveners who don’t feel downtown is for everyone.

City Youth Services Director Jason Bartlett said that said the project speaks to issues that young people face, including depression and anxiety, which can lead some young people to consider suicide and substance abuse.

“Here in New Haven we want to use this forum to allow young people to express themselves and build self-esteem,” he said. “I don’t know a better way to have self-esteem than for that young lady there bring her friends and family to Chapel Street and have people in the community see her on the side of a building.

Bartlett said the city is asking other building owners in the city to step forward and offer space so that more banners can be put up. They’re also asking corporations, foundations and those who care about the youth in the city to help defray the cost of getting the banners installed.

Win Davis, executive director of the Town Green District, said he couldn’t be prouder that downtown is among the sections of the city that gets to host the art installation.

“I think it is safe to say this is the future of New Haven becoming the present,” he said. “We’re very grateful to Rob for connecting with the city and all the time spent working together to make this come together. It really will add to the vibrancy and local flavor that we really are proud of downtown.”

Andy Wolf, who heads up the city’s arts and cultural affairs department, said that he saw the “I Matter” project as a continuation of the way a city that is “as progressive and enlightened as New Haven” provides a platform for those in the community who don’t always have a voice or presence in the city.

Watch the Facebook Live video below to catch the “I Matter” project unveiling.


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posted by: Bill Saunders on September 13, 2018  2:58pm

Another white outsider co-opting our real urban voices…and making money off it (presumably).

I’m sorry, these recent trends in public art do more to disempower the voices by making them a commodity of white privilege. It’s more about creating a politically correct ‘backdrop’, than fostering real community through genuine engagement. 

Now that the Immigrant photos are off The Green, what are politicians going to stand in front while on the campaign trail?

These projects are always top-down, exploitive at their core and not cheap…
The empress has no clothes—that’s the real reason she bought outfits for her staff!

Give our young urban voices the financial resources and support they need,  and let THEM figure out how they want to express their New Haven Experience in Public, and get these cheap, corporate hucksters and their glossy, advertising ‘art’ off of our streets….

It’s a freaking insult given the real young talent that is trying to emerge…
Sad, really….. morally criminal…...

Not one of these recent project has ‘empowered’ anybody except for the people getting checks.

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 13, 2018  3:50pm

The dangerous community message here is that the people depicted on the posters ‘Matter More’...

There is no way around that interpretation, especially when using direct images that are real people, and given the ‘public exposure’ these images have been ‘afforded’.

Remember, City Hall Public Art Projects are always self-serving at their core.

Does anybody notice what is conspicuously absent from this ‘press-op’.
The young urban voices themselves!!!!!! 

That tells you everything you need to know….

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 13, 2018  4:44pm

The first rule of community art is it shouldn’t be about ‘celebrating’ individuals. 
It should be about engaging the community on an even playing field.

In this instant digital age of the day,  City Hall is fanning the flames of narcissism, not community, or art.

I also think giving this type of ‘public identification’ of young people, especially young women, is potentially dangerous…

Through the wrong eyes, you have just made them an easier target.

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 14, 2018  12:28am

As a final comment on this story, I would like to give a personal shout-out to Mijae, Marquis, and the rest of the youth that were exploited in this project.

I hope you all reach out for your dreams and I hope your are successful in those endeavors. 
You are the hope and the future. 

That ‘hope’ is not contained in an image plastered on a building.
It is contained in action and vision,  and can be realized in your local communities by you and your supporters.

I ‘hope’ you see the irony here, Marquis—I think your ‘dream’ as stated on your ‘poster’ was fulfilled—
You made all those rats at City Hall feel better about themselves, and some white guy from the shoreline made some money off your image and idea, as well.  Great Success (for them).

And Mijae—I apologize in advance if I miswrote your name here—I couldn’t really make it out from the photograph of your ‘poster’.  NHI should really be ashamed of not giving you ‘poster children’ proper props in the article. That is because you ‘youth’ never really mattered here.  That is why you weren’t invited to the ‘unveiling’ as well.

You were just a means to a press-op.

Also, isn’t ‘I Matter’ some weird co-opting of ‘Black Lives Matter’, Mr. White Artist…...
You don’t get to moderate a discussion about the ‘urban experience’ in New Haven.
Sorry.  I hope you feel a little uneasy with what you have ‘pulled off’ here.

Originality has left the building….  all that’s left are the crooks.
Matter is neither created or destroyed…. Matter just exists. 

Actions make mattering matter. I want to see what you kids have up your sleeve!
All of the money spent to promote this White Outsider should have been given to you young visionaries.

(Cultural Director, Andy Wolf, you get to be ashamed here as well.  Where was the ‘public process’ to spend money on this ‘public art opportunity’? Seems a little lacking and inside tracked, to say the least)

posted by: Mike cox on September 14, 2018  1:28pm

Mr. Saunders, it is a shame that you have formulated such a strong and inaccurate opinion of the I-Matter Project. The feedback from the youth involved over the past few years, their parents, the educators and everyone else involved has been nothing but positive. Your inflammatory language is exactly why an amazing “out of the box” project such as this is so successful. I ask you dial it back a notch, allow the positive energy and results permeate your opinion and then perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to understand why working with youth, their self-worth and willingness to express them selves so boldly for all to see is amazing. The project is a winner. It has been for years and will continue to be ... congratulations to New Haven for being “that” place to recognize it. Hats off - great job to you all.

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 14, 2018  2:51pm

Mike Cox,

We have a lot of talent to cultivate in this City. 

I think if you look at my post directed at the students, you will see that I am coming from this from a position of ‘empowering’ them rather than ‘exploiting’ them. 

Sure, everybody is enamored with their picture these days.  Big Deal.
It is not a substitute for community or action.

Bringing in outsiders to pad their artistic resume on the backs of our students ‘dreams’ is disgusting.
This project was just a knock-off of the ill-conceived Immigrant Project on the Green.

Meanwhile, guidance counselors are getting laid off… 

One is not a substitute for the other….  could we have afforded another guidance counselor for what this project cost—most likely.

And where did the money magically come from…. my 11% tax increase just isn’t feeling it… but I sure could use some new clothes….

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 14, 2018  3:17pm

Also Mike Cox,

I don’t think I used any inflammatory language here—children are involved…..and one of my points is to talk directly to them and teach them to think critically. I certainly have not disparaged any of our young people in my commenting.

One educator who I deeply respect reached out to me extremely positively about this comment thread, and was in agreement.  So I know I am not off-base. 

I wouldn’t know what the students, teachers, or parents feel about this project—they were omitted from this story.  Also, I don’t listen to ‘proxies’— seems like you ‘know too much’ and have ‘an agenda’. 

I would like to here what the students think directly—both the ones who were ‘posterized’ and the ones that were ‘excluded’ or not given the ‘opportunity’...

but at least you did post under your real name—- Props to you there.

How is this project ‘out of the box’?  It is nothing but cardboard
Before this, the artist hung these portraits in Libraries.  WOW!

Why the ‘third party’?  Bet he ‘knew someone’.....!

My faith is in the kids.

Give them the means to create and the public space to show it in….
Then we will all have something to ‘celebrate’!

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 14, 2018  7:31pm

From the Imatter webpage:

In partnership with the City of New Haven’s Youth Services Department, we have launched
a city-wide Compassion Campaign that will feature 50-75 large scale banners on buildings, window graphics in vacant storefronts, and illuminated 3D installations. We aim to enroll and unite the Greater New Haven community in bold, honest communication regarding the social and emotional challenges facing their youth while simultaneously beautifying the city.

So, Jason Bartlett, expect an FOI request from me soon…....