Expanding the Walls: Making Connections Between Photography, History and Community is an annual, eight-month residency in which New York–area high school students explore the history and techniques of photography. Through experimentation, gallery visits and workshops led by contemporary artists, the students build community as each explores and defines his or her art practice. Since the program’s founding in 2001, the James VanDerZee (1886–1983) archives—housed at The Studio Museum in Harlem—have been the primary catalyst for the students’ critical reflections on the representation of culture and community. VanDerZee, the iconic chronicler of Harlem during its renaissance period, documented landscapes and social groups, and cultivated a thriving studio practice that represented an emergent black middle class. Now in its fourteenth year, the program and exhibition continue to be impassioned considerations of VanDerZee’s timeless themes, and testaments to the Studio Museum’s commitment to young, emerging artists.
Through their engagement with contemporary artists and museum professionals, excursions throughout New York and discussion groups focusing on the impact of art on society, students discover techniques to present their ideas to an intergenerational audience.