Art that 'sort of gets in your face'

ERIC POOLE | Allied NewsFrom left, Slippery Rock University art professor Theresa Antonellis, Pittsburgh-based artist Leslie Stem and a Slippery Rock University facilities worker prepare to use an aerial lift for an art installation at the university. Some of the portraits in the series are visible hanging in the distance behind them.

SLIPPERY ROCK – The next time you’re approaching the quad or student center at Slippery Rock University, look up.

SRU is one of more than 1,800 groups participating in “Inside Out: The People’s Art Project,” a global undertaking with the theme of “Face Diversity, Foster Inclusion.”

Dozens of large-scale portraits were recently installed on the exterior walls of several buildings, showing the unique makeup of the campus community, said Theresa Antonellis.

“It sort of gets in your face,” said Antonellis, an art department instructor and director of SRU’s Martha Gault Art Gallery.

She has been following a street artist known as “JR,” who papered buildings in underdeveloped countries with photos of all kinds of people – bringing their faces “out to the street.”

That turned into the “Inside Out” project, which now spans over 100 countries, and Antonellis thought it would be a good fit for SRU.

“I always wanted to be part of this project,” she said.

After many months of planning, getting photos, coordinating with colleagues, and securing permission to hang the portraits, she is very pleased with how SRU’s version of the project has turned out.

There are 180 black and white portraits each measuring 5-by-3-feet hanging on buildings facing the quad, and on several sections outside the Robert M. Smith Student Center. There are also flyers and signs with information about “Inside Out.”

Its mission seems to be working – people are stopping to study the photos, wondering what they mean and striking up conversations about the subject matter – like an art gallery but less intimidating, Antonellis said.

This public project is representative of SRU’s population, showing passers-by that there is diversity and inclusion.

“I hope they get a sense of community,” she said.

SRU students, faculty, administrators, staff and alumni from many different backgrounds volunteered to be photographed. A lot of them had fun with it, making silly faces or sticking out their tongues, she said.

Students ran multiple photo booths earlier this year, and the folks behind “Inside Out” printed them. The organization also provided some guidance.

Each poster was secured with wheat paste, and the process was completed with help from volunteers, and SRU’s facilities crew and their industrial lift, Antonellis said.

She’s not sure how long the portraits will remain outside, but noted that a smaller exhibit of the same photos will be displayed at the Martha Gault Art Gallery on campus Oct. 28 through Nov. 7.

Antonellis thanked everyone who was instrumental in making this project a success for SRU.

That includes Cindy LaCom, SRU’s director of gender studies, and Ursula Payne, a dance instructor who is also the director of SRU’s arm of the Frederick Douglass Institute.

“I thought it was fascinating,” LaCom said of the idea.

She has studied a lot of art, and has noticed that portraits typically depict wealthy, white men. “Inside Out” helps to deconstruct and challenge that.

“It has exceeded my expectations,” she said.

The result is very compelling and achieves what Antonellis had initially described – a chance for many people to look at the photos and see themselves reflected back, and to generate discussions.

“It was a labor of love,” LaCom said.

Feedback has been positive, and she’s looking forward to hearing more from folks when the gallery exhibit opens. A reception is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 28 at the gallery.

For more information about SRU’s project, visit “Martha Gault Art Gallery” on Facebook. To learn more about how “Inside Out” got started, visit

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