Art Exhibit Looks At Hunger In City
JMU Students Hope To Bring Awareness To Issue Through Photography Display
Posted: January 7, 2013
Corinne Diop, a professor at JMU, and Michael McKee, chief planning and philanthropy officer at the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, look at Diop’s students’ photographs documenting hunger at the Darrin-McHone Gallery in the Smith House last month. (Photo by Stephen Mitchell)
“1 in 10 of your neighbors go hungry,” one of the cans reads.
On a nearby wall hang two much larger works, characterized by capital letters blaring messages on top of photographs of piles of food: “How much do you waste?” one asks. “Think about hunger,” the other states.
The works are part of a unique photo exhibit — “Hunger in Harrisonburg” — that runs through Jan. 25 at the gallery, located in the Arts Council of the Valley’s headquarters at the Smith House, 311 S. Main St. The exhibit is the gallery’s first to focus on the ever-present concern of local hunger, and features only James Madison University student artists, who completed the work as part of a semester-long research project. The exhibit runs through Jan. 25.
What began as a chance to enlighten the local community through art became a learning experience for the students. Now they’re hoping to pass on the information and passion they’ve garnered to the community.
“I came across all these statistics that were really surprising to me,” said Sarah Smith, 21, a junior photography major, about the canned foods piece at the opening reception Friday evening. “The first step to helping is to figure out the problem.”
Victoria Hall, 23, a senior studio art major, said her pieces of lettering on top of photographs of food are meant to make people reflect on their social responsibility to help those in need.
“It’s … supposed to be sort of hard to look at,” she said.
The eight advanced photography students in professor Corinne Diop’s class all captured moments at various local hunger fighting organizations and events, such as the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, Our Community Place, and the Salvation Army.
Diop got the idea for the project, which involved students representing a semester’s worth of research in several pictures, last year after attending a JMU panel discussion and art exhibit on hunger.
Michael McKee, chief planning and philanthropy officer at the Verona-based food bank, said the exhibit will bring awareness to the local hunger issue, which often stays hidden.
“Art should make you think, and this exhibit really does,” he said.
The food bank serves roughly 120,000 people per month through food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in the 25 western Virginia counties it serves.
About 37,000 of those live here in the central Valley. Both numbers have doubled from five years ago, McKee said.
Food bank officials believed the number served, which jumped dramatically when the recession hit in 2008, would have started to decline by now as the effects of the recession recede and an economic recovery, however halting, takes root. But the organization served 16 percent more people in the last fiscal year.
Estimates show that the number of people served won’t start to decrease until possibly 2019, he added.
The food bank has experienced a sharp drop in food donations from both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and manufacturers, which have become more efficient and therefore have less imperfect food items to send to Verona. Last fiscal year, the food bank saw a 43 percent decline from both sources, which collectively contribute about half of the organization’s donations.
Many of the people the food bank serves are working, he noted. Due to underemployment, though, many local residents are unable to make ends meet despite a steady paycheck.
“The face of hunger really has changed,” McKee said.
Want To Help?
Those attending the “Hunger in Harrisonburg” photography exhibit at the Darrin-McHone Gallery, 311 S. Main St., Harrisonburg, are invited to bring non-perishable food for collection or contribute to the online virtual food drive at www.brafb.org/donate. For more information, contact the Arts Council of the Valley at 801-8779.
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or email@example.com