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PMH began in 2012 in a one bedroom apartment of a Bhutanese family in Aurora, Colorado. A group of dedicated photographers and educators wanted to provide training, support and a community for refugees to feel confident sharing their experiences while also building English, technology and leadership skills. Over five months, we met with a group of Bhutanese women who recently resettled in Aurora, Colorado. The classes and culminating exhibit demonstrated that these ideas could become a reality.
In 2013 we partnered with Mercy Housing for classroom space, and the Colorado Photographic Arts Center became our fiscal sponsor. The 2013 participants were diverse in ages and ethnicities which led to cross-cultural and intergenerational learning. Each week participants made photographs and writing inspired by memories of the past and the present issues or questions they face as newly resettled refugees. We exhibited the work at Colorado Photographic Arts Center, and at the Posner Center for International Development. Visitors were moved by the photographs and stories, while the participants were empowered by sharing them. The powerful artwork combined with these moments of connection across cultures inspired us to continue developing Picture Me Here.
In 2014, in addition to two local classes, we traveled to Nepal to teach in the Beldangi Refugee Camp where many of our Bhutanese participants in past programs lived before resettling in Colorado. Many of them lament not having a camera to document their memories during the decades spent in the camps. With the help of United Nations Refugee Agency, International Organization for Migration and Caritas Nepal, we were able to work with Bhutanese refugees that were soon resettling in Colorado. We raised funds through a Kickstarter campaign and were able to provide cameras, teach in the Beldangi refugee camp in Nepal and have five exhibits (in the Beldangi Refugee Camp, at the City Museum of Kathmandu, at the Aurora Cultural Arts Disctict, Colorado Photographic Arts Center and John Fielder’s Gallery). These participants resettled in Colorado shortly after we met them in the camp. They presented their photographs and discussed their experiences at the exhibits.
In 2015, we offered multiple programs including an animation workshop with refugee kids, a photography and wheatpasting project with teen girls, photography, animation and writing with adult ESL students,
photojournalism with teens, and most recently we launched the Langtang Photo Album project in Nepal,
working with earthquake survivors of Langtang Valley. These Tibetan/Tamang participants lost hundreds of family and friends, their homes and entire villages due to a landslide triggered by the April earthquake. They are now displaced, living temporarily in Kathmandu. In addition to these programs in 2015, we also had multiple exhibits, presentations and speaking engagements. Colorado Public Television produced a short feature on Picture Me Here in an upcoming PBS documentary on the power of storytelling and NPR produced a story on our Langtang project.
In 2016, we received a Mayor's Award for diversity and inclusion. We nominated PMH participant and mentor Goshen Carmel to visit the White House for a refugee symposium. We had multiple projects and collaborative partnerships with local and international organizations serving refugees and immigrants. We led an innovative program working with refugees and immigrants that had to leave a career in healthcare and start over in America. We helped these participants share their stories of why they had to leave everything behind, how they are doing today as they face the long journey of rebuilding their lives and careers in America, and what they hope for in the future. This project was in collaboration with Colorado Welcome Back, a program at the Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning, and is partially funded by City of Denver's Arts and Venues Imagine 2020 Grant and the Denver Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. We launched a collaborative project with Lighthouse Writers Workshop, teaching creative writing and photography to New Americans and contributing their work to LWW's Write Denver city wide writing initiative. We taught classes at New America School, teaching photojournalism to marginalized youth, focusing on migration stories.
In early 2017, at Denver's McNichol's Building, we had a Picture Me Here retrospective exhibit, featuring a portion of every project since 2012 through today. Opening in July, we will feature a selection of projects at Aurora History Museum. Our mentors are working side by side with participants that are directly impacted by the Trump Administrations Muslim Travel Ban. We are continuing our collaborative "Write Denver" classes at Emily Griffith Technical College with Lighthouse Writers Workshop.
In 2017-2018, we facilitated a year-long fellowship program for New Americans that wish to take their storytelling further and work professionally in the creative media field. This program was supported by a generous grant from Arts and Society. Classes were held at Denver Open Media and Rocky Mountain College of Arts and Design. Participants were awarded a free DOM annual membership, granting them access to equipment and software throughout the year. They worked on photography, video, animation, creative writing and audio storytelling projects. We produced a book, had four exhibits, and the final work is still touring. Our fellow's animation "New American Voices" was selected as part of "We The People", an exhibit in NYC that explores unique perspectives on what it means to be an American. The animation was projected upon the Manhattan Bridge during 4th of July 2019.