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MFA Alumnae Connect Youth with the Stars

In 2017, Robin Dahlberg MFA ’13 volunteered with a youth photography workshop on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. This year, when she and her team decided to raise funds for a second workshop, they surpassed their goal to raise $4,000 several weeks ahead of schedule.

The workshop, Star Stories, invites Lakota youth between the ages of 8 and 13 to tell visually compelling narratives about themselves and their communities thorough photography, audio, and video. Stars have held a unique place in Lakota mythology for centuries; this culture and reverence of astronomy inspired the program’s name.

Star Stories photo by Kalell

Photo by Kalell, Star Stories student.

Regardless of this history, many Reservation families struggle with poverty, substance abuse and obesity-related health issues. More than 45 percent of Reservation residents live below the federal poverty line because of the lack of economic opportunity. These challenges weigh heavily on the Reservation's teens, and the suicide rate among them is more than five times the national average.  

“Before coming to the photography MFA program, I was a civil rights lawyer and I was working on a case on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation about 60 miles east of here that involved the tribe,” says Dahlberg. “I got to know several families through that law suit, and when I pursued photography, I knew I wanted to return. I was put in touch with the Boys and Girls Club, and we did the first photography workshop.”

Star Stories kids

Some of the Star Stories students.

Many youth on the reservation feel disconnected from their culture; photography provides a vehicle through which they can reconnect, and the workshop brings elders who can share facets of Lakota history that many participants never knew.

This year, Josee Schryer MFA ’13 and Veronica Melendez MFA ’13 joined Dahlberg in South Dakota. The three women met during the Photography MFA program at the Hartford Art School and were thrilled to reunite for the workshop.

Photo by Amber, Star Stories student

Photo by Amber, Star Stories student.

“There are no bad pictures when you’re working with them,” says Dahlberg. “The images help them talk about things that they really need to talk about.”

Work created by this summer’s students will be shown at MAX 2019: A Space Festival, hosted by Media Art Xploration, Inc. in San Francisco. The three-day festival, opening in May 2019, explores the intersection of space, art, and technology through performance art, visual media, and live exhibitions.