Betty Camus’ SMILE Project at Harlem Academy
Harlem Academy is an independent school founded in 2004. Working in partnership with families, Harlem Academy prepares its students to enter and thrive at a top secondary school. In February 2009, the Consulate organized, for the first time, a fundraising event for the school during Black History Month. Since then, every year, the Consulate hosts a wine and champagne sale auction for the benefit of Harlem Academy.
More recently, at the very beginning of November, French artist Betty Camus enlisted the help of Harlem Academy’s fourth graders for an art project that she is repeating with school groups all over the world. "Project SMILE" uses art to celebrate individuality while highlighting the fact we share the universal smile.
She works with the children to photograph each other smiling and then aggregates the collected images into a mosaic. A second version of the mosaic is created with black and white versions of the photographs that the students alter and decorate. A third version uses abstract self-portraits painted by the children. For the fourth version, the students build collage self-portraits. Each collected mosaic is framed, and the four are displayed together at the school.
Harlem Academy students enjoyed learning about painting, abstraction, photography, and collage, and they are proud to see the fruits of their creativity hanging in the school’s common room. Additionally, every time they see Project SMILE, they will be reminded of Ms. Camus’ deeper lesson – to meet similarities and differences with a smile.