BRATTLEBORO—If photography could save the world, In-Sight would be leading the way. An upcoming online auction will help community members near and far support the program.
As an educational and empowering program for youth through art, it has few peers in the area, or anywhere else for that matter. In-Sight’s mission is to offer students “a creative voice and outlet, an opportunity to experience success, tools for self-awareness and self-worth, and encourages them to become actively engaged in their communities,” according to its website.
All students can take classes, regardless of their ability to pay. This is a “core value,” says Teta Hilsdon, the newly appointed executive director of In-Sight. And 90 percent of students, she says, need some degree of scholarship help. “We just keep working until we have enough to meet the need.”
First at the Teen Center (now the Boys & Girls Club) then obtaining its own space on Flat Street, In-Sight has flourished since its beginnings as a one-month summer program.
One of In-Sight’s most important and innovative programs is Exposures, an exchange program between students from southern Vermont and the Pine Ridge reservation in North Dakota. This is the 14th year for Exposures, and some expansion has taken place.
There are currently two additional exchange partners––the Dine Reservation in Arizona, and Los Fotos in Los Angeles, which serves primarily low-income Latina girls. Next summer Brattleboro will host the program, bringing students and their teachers from the reservation to work with them here in Brattleboro.
Zach Stephens, once a student at In-Sight who has worked as a freelance photographer in the area since graduating from Hallmark Institute in 2004, was recently appointed program director. He is directly responsible for the Exposures Program, and the content and development of all other programs as well.
“I hope to continue to see In-Sight be a model that’s inclusive of social status and background,” he said. “We want to be here for all youth.”
His status as a former student of In-Sight, he added, “helps me relate. But also the fact that I’ve built a career can be an example.”
One of the most important jobs Stevens has as program director is outreach — letting young people know about In-Sight’s programs, and also finding suitable teachers.
“We have great resources and commitments at colleges, where many of In-Sight’s volunteer teachers come from. But, it is a challenge because college students graduate and move on.”
In-Sight maintains a database of current and former teachers. This database turns out to be a boon for the annual auction on the website, www.insight-photography.org/insight. A reception kicks off the auction at the Vermont Center for Photography, 49 Flat Street, on Friday, Oct. 2, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. The auction closes Sunday, Nov. 1, with a reception from 3 to 6 p.m.
“If a teacher has moved away, they often support In-Sight by donating a print,” said Stephens.
There will be some 200 prints for this year’s auction. The poster photograph by Mark Shaw, who worked in the 1950s and ’60s for Life magazine, shows a woman in a white dress whose pleats spread around her, like a delicate seashell.
The auction includes other fine photographs by well-known figures in the field, offered for bidding at a fraction of their market value.
This year’s auction will include work by such photographers as O. Winston Link, Ansel Adams, David Hilliard, Larry Fink, Justin Kimball, Rebecca Lepkoff, and In-Sight founder John Willis. Now that the auction is held on-line, these high-end photographs have on occasion been shipped to collectors living far from Brattleboro. Hilsdon relates that a couple of years ago the highest priced photograph went to an American collector in Tokyo.
It is a chance to purchase photographs by beloved local photographers as well, such as Bob George (who has been documenting Brattleboro for some 30 years) and Christine Triebert.
But the auction also offers an opportunity to discover work by younger artists who are at an earlier point in their professional careers, such as Evan Darling, a past student who has gone into the field of microscopy, whose stunning image of the underside of a starfish graces the second auction poster.
Says Darling of In-Sight, “Through interacting with the staff and friends that I met at In-Sight, I found out a lot about who I wanted to be, and how I could get there. In-Sight is an extraordinary place for kids to grow, create and play, and learn how to look at the world creatively and with a bit of pizzaz.”
“People like Evan,” says Hilsdon, “are supporting the next generation. They’re ‘paying it forward.’ It’s so beautiful.”
Hilsdon explains how they get the donated work. “Every person connected to In-Sight hits up who they know, and then they ask those who they know. So, there is a big network for the auction.”
In many cases, the original connection was made by John Willis, In-Sight’s founder, who has taught at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, and at Marlboro College.
Hilsdon points out there is some work you cannot purchase elsewhere.
“There is work hung by photographers who, while their work is at a high level, do not show at all, or rarely.”
She says she feels strongly that the auction be inclusive in price range and professional experience. Photograph prices range from $10 to $1,000 for starting bids. Artists set their own prices; typically starting bids are one-fourth of the regular selling price.
“The inclusiveness of the silent auction reflects the culture of inclusiveness that is so important to In-Sight,” Hilsdon says.
There will also be fine photography books to bid on, donated by both individuals and publishers such as Radius Books, Pine Island Press, and George Thompson Publishing.
While currently 35 percent of In-Sight’s funding comes from grants and private donations, the organization is seeking to make itself more self-sufficient and support its programs through undertakings such as the auction.
“Grants are not dependable, plus many grantors want to support a single project and then have you move on to getting your support from your own community,” says Hilsdon. “Only 1 percent of our funding comes from classroom fees, so we’ve raised our goal this year to $32,000. It’s a great auction, and we’re getting the word out to a wider audience of photography lovers and collectors. We don’t see the need getting less.”