The Kennedy Plaza Portrait and Moving Bus projects AS220 Youth, Nail, The City of Providence, and RIPTA

The Moving Bus project is a functioning RIPTA bus adorned inside and out with black & white photographic portraits of RI Citizens visiting Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park in downtown Providence RI. Those portraits were part of an AS220 Youth Photo Memory project called “The Kennedy Plaza Portraits.” These, and supporting projects, were made possible through unwavering support for art and artists throughout our city, the the 2011 Creative Capital Hub Project funded by the NEA Our Town Grant and generous matches by community partners.

By Scott Lapham, AS220 Youth Photo Coordinator


This project started when the AS220 Youth Photography program created professional quality portraits over the course of two summers as part of their summer job responsibilities. We called this project The Kennedy Plaza Portrait Project.

To create the portraits my students had to learn to use a professional Hasselblad medium format film camera and a professional audio recorder. They also needed to overcome their teenage shyness in order to approach adult strangers convincing them to sit for a portrait and then an interview. They then needed to learn to process and print their black & white photographs in our traditional darkroom, while also learning to edit the recorded audio. My job during this part of the project was to teach the students how to use the equipment and conduct themselves professionally, and then to get out of the way. I gauged my success on how much I needed to be on site while the photography and audio recording was happening. The less I needed to be there the more successful the students were becoming. When the students were making their own strong visual compositions and asking their own questions without my input I knew that important soft social skills were being developed.

Once the portraits were printed and shown at Providence’s Krause Gallery, we felt our work was done. But that was not the case. We caught wind of the OurTown grant and were awarded an opportunity to create an installation project using our portraits as raw material to be shown in Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park. We were fortunate to collaborate with Nail, an advertising agency with a national reputation located in downtown Providence. Their designers worked with our students, showing them the creative process from brainstorming ideas, to design, to pitching these ideas to the clients and stakeholders involved with the project. For our students from underserved communities the exposure to this professional world was a breakthrough experience.

From these meetings we designed the Moving Bus. This mobile gallery showcasing the everyday people using Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park has exceeded expectations. It was slated to be on the road for three months. It is quickly approaching its second anniversary. There were fears of vandalism. Our students argued that if the bus riders actually felt connected to the artwork it would not be vandalized. To this day there is no significant vandalism.

The creation of the Moving Bus was only possible because of  City and State Governmental Agencies, a Non Profit Organization and a For Profit Business all working together. The richness of all these interactions, and how they supported the project during rough patches, was truly eye opening for me personally. All of this was transparent for our students to witness and participate in too. Through this process they saw the excitement, hard work, compromise and patience that large projects demand when becoming realities. This collaboration felt remarkable and made me proud of the city I have been living in for my adult life.

When the bus was being wrapped four of my students and myself went to see the progress, if only to convince ourselves it was not a dream. As we entered the bus hanger the students could see the portraits they took adorning the bus. Their faces showed shock and joy that cannot be faked. It is moments like these that can change people’s lives. These are the moments when young people, who have been disconnected from civic society realize they are included, that their larger efforts can matter. It is projects like these that can inspire young people to imagine their adulthoods in positive ways they had not before. One of The Moving Bus students has just moved to California to start his own photography business, a second student is attending Mass Art  and a third is attending RISD this Fall. For students of color from undeserved neighborhoods, these are remarkable numbers.  It is projects like these that can inspire their instructors to want more opportunities to create stronger community through public art making.

 For More Information visit AS220 Youth