Press Play: Art Start

"This is the 3rd installation of The Art Start Family Portrait Project. The process continues the conversation about the pervasive existence of housing insecurity in New York City. Through this project, we have been able to build stronger relationships as well with Art Start families." - Mariama Noguera-Devers



In this episode of Press Play we talked with Mariama Noguera-Devers, Programs Manager at Art Start. The organization uses the creative process to nurture the voices, hearts and minds of historically marginalized youth. They have received many meaningful awards, including the Non-Profiteer of the Year in 2010 and the National Endowment for the Arts Award in 2001. You can watch their videos at




NYXT: Where and when is Art Start Family Portrait Project?

Mariama Noguera-Devers: The Art Start Family Portrait Project 2019 exhibition will be open June 29 - July 13, 2019 in Studio 1019 of the West Chelsea Arts Building. There will be a special free family-focused opening reception on Saturday, June 29th, from 1:00 to 5:00 PM. The reception will include a viewing of the portraits and accompanying videos and oral histories, family-oriented art activities and more. The address is 526 W. 26th St, 10th Floor Studio 1019 New York, New York 10001.


NYXT: What is the goal of Art Start Family Portrait Project. How did it start and how was the collaboration with the families?

MND: The Art Start Family Portrait Project is a multimedia project and platform for the powerful stories, voices, and images of New York City families experiencing homelessness. Since 2013, Art Start has partnered with world-class photographers to celebrate the beauty and strength of families facing challenges that are often stigmatized by the public. Through portraits and story-telling, families invite the world to see them for how they ask to be seen.


The Art Start Family Portrait Project provides the parents, guardians, and children we serve, with opportunities to reflect upon their own successes. In many ways, the Family Portrait Project is the culmination of Art Start’s year-round work inside the residences, which provides youth with the tools, structure, and support they need to be able to see themselves as agents of change for the lives and futures they envision. Through consistent creative workshops with residences for youth and families experiencing homelessness, art becomes the starting point of a larger life process, and the start of larger conversations about the future of our communities.



NYXT: Did you work with other organizations or groups for this project?

MND: Throughout the Art Start Family Portrait Project 2019, we’ve worked with a number of creatives and professionals in their fields. The project is presented by the National Endowment for the Arts - Art Works, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with the support of Smashbox Studios and Industrial Color. Our community partners Children’s Village, Volunteers of America and Bronxworks also helped make this project possible. Through our partnership with the Columbia University’s INCITE program we received trainings to conduct oral histories with the families.


We also collaborated with project co-founder, Natalie Brasington’s With & About Projects and noted photographers, including Juan Algarin, Natalie Brasington, Kissenia Chara, Vincent D’Oria, Michael Granacki, Heidi Gutman, David Johnson, Hosea Johnson, Itaysha Jordan,  David Lang, Jason Leavy, Roy Morrison, Tyrone Brown-Osborne, Michelle Garcia, Alberto Oviedo, Ken Pao, Brian Pineda, Mauricio Quintero, William Ross, Hannah Saleh, Zachary Maxwell Stertz, and Aingeru Zorita. Make-up artists included Yomarky Álvarez, Adriana Andaluz, Madeline Kawalek, Jenny Marin, Delina Median, Emma Strachman, and Kim White.


NYXT: Why do you think it is important to emphasize the potential and importance of family as a value? How is that value in 2019?

MND: The significance of Art Start’s work with children and families living in the shelter system intensifies each year as the incidence of homelessness continues to rise and worsen. The most recent estimates are that there are upwards of 63,000 people experiencing homelessness in New York City; up to 23,000 of these are children, and 75% of the shelter population is made up of families.


The families who choose to share their portraits invite us to learn about their everyday forms of happiness, their courage and strength in the face of misfortune, the centrality of family in their lives, and the warmth they share with each other. The project provides them with a space in which they can reflect and express their pride in their family. The exhibition is a platform for them to invite others to know them, and connect us all through common experiences, such as love, parenthood, childhood memories, and hopes for the future.


This multimedia project is a result of a community that joins together to work with the families who have chosen to share their stories, and who have been a part of the project’s production every step of the way.


“When you look at your family in a picture, it feels different and you get a different feeling. It's exciting, like you got your own family, your own memories and your own things that you have to build and it's kind of touching.” - Ms. P, The Bronx, Art Start Family Portrait Project participant.


NYXT: What power do you find in the act of storytelling? What impact has it had on others?

MND: Through this project, families have the opportunity to share their stories, histories and experiences in their own words and discuss how they see themselves and how they wish to be seen. For every person who has the honor to listen to these oral histories, watch videos and see the pictures, this collaborative project personalizes the significant problem of  homelessness and puts real stories to real people.


“I want this picture to remind my children that they can overcome anything in their life.”

- Ms. K, Brooklyn, Art Start Family Portrait Project participant.


This is the 3rd installation of The Art Start Family Portrait Project. The process continues the conversation about the pervasive existence of housing insecurity in New York City. Through this project, we have been able to build stronger relationships as well with Art Start families.


NYXT: What is coming next for Art Start?

MND: The Art Start Portrait Project, with a focus on youth, will be exhibiting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the fall of 2019 for United Way’s Boys and Men of Color Week, and in New York, NY in February 2020, sponsored by Humanities New York.


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