Three large crates stood sentry by the doors of the Besharat Art Gallery and Museum in the Castleberry Hill section one late October afternoon. They were not long for Atlanta though, according to the large white shipping labels plastered multiple times on each crate, these were heading to a school in Italy. 

Inside of each crate was 150 large print photographs, reprints to be more precise, of children from all around the world.

The photographs are all by award-winning photographer Steve McCurry and are part of a series “Faces of Innocence” that is a major piece of the “Arts in School” project the Besharat Arts Foundation wants to bring to any and every school they can. 

The “Arts in School” project is a way to bring the world to schools, and thus the schools to the world. Inside the gallery offices, Besharat Arts Foundation curator extraordinaire Luis Perez was on the phone verifying pickup of the crates while printing a list of all the schools in Georgia the “Arts in School” and “Faces of Innocence” has serviced this far this year. 

The list is three pages long and counting with the foundation having just completed an installation at Thomasville Heights Elementary School, Luther J. Price Middle School, and at the LIFE School, a project-based high school located inside of the old Daily Report building at 190 Pryor Street. 

On Oct. 22, the team, including Perez, assistant curator Valentina Sanabria, and foundation board member Joe Scherberger, completed an installation at Whitefoord Early Learning Academy in Atlanta. This far, including in France and Italy, there have been 70 school installations. 

Thus far, the “Art in School” and “Faces of Innocence” projects have gone up in 37 Georgia schools from Elberton to Lilburn, to Powder Springs to Flowery Branch, and, of course, in Atlanta. 

The project has also been installed in two California schools—Crane Day School and Matilija Middle School, respectively—and five Florida schools in Kissimmee, Lantana, and Winter Park, respectively). 

There are 14 schools in France and Italy that have received “Faces of Innocence” exhibits. One French school, Ecole de la Colombe, which has just 430 students, had 145 photos installed around the school grounds. 

The John Lewis Invictus Academy in Atlanta has the most thus far with 202 “Faces of Innocence” currently gracing their walls and corridors.

The “Faces of Innocence” are meeting and greeting kids that look just like them from all walks of life. “We put 100 (pictures) there but we could have put 20 more,” said Perez about the Whitefoord installation. 

The photos are reprints of McCurry pictures that are first enlarged, then professionally framed, and finally carefully placed on walls throughout a given school. The project is free for any school willing to give the foundation and “Arts in Schools” the time and space. 

Everything from private schools, like St. Thomas More School in Decatur to Catholic schools, St. Teresa’s Catholic School in Albany (Ga.) for example, to Atlanta Public Schools like the ones in the Thomasville section, has received the “Faces of Innocence.”

At times, Besharat finds it difficult to properly put into words what the “Art in School” project means to him. 

“One of the questions I am often asked concerning the project is where the idea for it comes from?” he said. “I have been deeply influenced by the teaching of the 13th-Century Persian poet/teacher Saadi Shirazi who wrote (in part) ‘Human beings are members of a whole, in the creation of one essence and soul’. The children of today are the decision-makers of tomorrow. They need to learn and practice the essence of what Saadi teaches us.”

Sanabria, who Perez acknowledged, “does a little bit of everything” around the gallery, agrees. 

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for students to be exposed to artwork and to different kinds of people.”

Scherberger, an art collector himself and a huge booster of the foundation’s goal to provide art to schools all over the world said of “Art in School,”, “This is a humanitarian program and there are no geographical limitations, we offer the opportunity for anyone that will agree to have us.”

The installation in Thomasville Heights Elementary School is a good example of why people like Perez are usually present for the installation. 

Each school provides different spaces and spacing opportunities for “Art in School” to work in. That’s a challenge but not a deterrent, not at all. 

“Every time we go in we have to deal with the space we have and it’s our pleasure,” Scherberger said. 

Local artist Nadia Javan has worked with the Besharat Arts Foundation and its founder Massoud Besharat for years and was in the gallery when The Atlanta Voice dropped by last month. She is a big supporter of the “Art in School” project and believes in its mission. 

“I think Massoud Besharat wants to help kids no matter where they come from and that is a beautiful thing,” said Javan, whose “Nadia’s Studio and Gallery” is located on the same property as the Besharat Art Gallery. 

The program has an installation planned for Hancock Day School in Savannah just before Christmas. The gift that keeps on giving looks like it will continue on into 2021. 

Perez hung up the phone and joined the rest of us in an upstairs gallery filled with prints of McCurry’s “Faces of Innocence” photos. Cobblestones make up the floor in this gallery leaving one to feel of walking through an outside art exhibit. The delivery to Italy was confirmed and set to ship out the next day.

Massoud, who was overseas on business that day but equally involved with everything “Art in Schools” added, “Children need to respect, love and preserve nature in order to remain part of it for survival. They need to be taught that notwithstanding, our differences matter, but our common humanity matters more.”  

(Trarell Torrence / The Atlanta Voice)

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