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Local Organizations Team With Pros To Raise Adoption Awareness

SANTA BARBARA, California – August 30, 2007 – Professionally made photographs of foster and adoptive children and their families will be featured in a new photography presentation called the Heart Gallery. The project, sponsored by Brooks Institute and Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services, is designed to raise awareness about foster and adoptive children.

The show, a lively upbeat presentation of photographs, is designed to help lift the stigma surrounding foster and adoptive kids, along with the families that care for them. Viewers will see the individuality and the unique beauty of each child and of the people who care for them.

The public is invited to the exhibit’s opening on November 1 from 5 – 8 pm at the Brooks Institute Cota Street Gallery, located at 27 Cota Street in downtown Santa Barbara. The event is part of the monthly “First Thursday” series of open gallery tours in downtown Santa Barbara. Pictures will be on display from October 8 through November 21.

The “Heart Gallery” title refers to photography shows of children from local communities that are being held around the country. The project started in a New Mexico social services agency and has grown to include similar projects in 40 states. Many of those states have held multiple shows each year.

In Santa Barbara County, this is the first Heart Gallery display. The November 1 opening is also the start of National Adoption Month, a nationwide outreach program begun in 1990, designed to call attention to the need for foster and adoptive families.

Currently there are more than 600 children in Santa Barbara County’s foster care system that are in need of placement. Local photographers were able to photograph nearly 40 individual children and 12 families.

Much of Heart Gallery’s support is derived from donations and volunteer efforts. Brooks Institute alumni and faculty members donated their time to shoot and edit the pictures., an on-line photography lab, donated considerable funds to print the final gallery images. Other local organizations such as Acapella Restaurant will donate food for the event and Derroy, an international award winning guitarist and adoptee himself, will offer a special performance.

The photographs were captured during three days at the Brooks Mason Street campus, the Santa Barbara Courthouse Sunken Gardens, and at Santa Barbara’s Butterfly Beach. Santa Barbara Heart Gallery Director and Brooks faculty member, Russ McConnell, coordinated this part of the project.

McConnell teamed with Anne Rodriguez of Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services who was familiar with the needs of the children and was able to work with local officials and families to make the photography sessions possible.

Initially Rodriguez and McConnell didn’t know they each had the same project in mind. McConnell heard of the Heart Gallery project though his father-in-law, a social worker in San Luis Obispo. “He talked about what a great cause it is,” said McConnell, who has a background in making fine art studio photographs of children. As a faculty member of Brooks, and as coordinator of the Cota Street gallery, he had a special set of abilities to bring to the project. “This was a perfect time and place to get involved and to give back,” said McConnell.

In talking to other Heart Gallery directors, McConnell was told the hardest part of the project was finding an ally in the welfare system. “I talked to people who tried unsuccessfully for years to do this,” McConnell said. He said when he got in touch with Rodriguez, “It was a match made in heaven.”

Rodriguez had long wanted to do such a project but had no access to photographers or a venue. “I always wanted to do a Heart Gallery project to bring awareness to our community. When Russ called, it was a miracle,” she said.

Photographers on the project included a group of Brooks Institute alumni and faculty members The alums included Jose Villa, Emily Hart Roberts, Michelle Warren and Melanie Moe. Besides McConnell, who teaches architectural photography, faculty member Christy Schuler and Brooks portrait photography sequence coordinator Tim Meyer also participated in photographing the children and their families.

In lining up the photographers for the project, McConnell’s aim was to display exceptional images. “Good photography will bring good exposure for the cause,” said McConnell. Rodriguez noted that visually strong pictures will help bring attention to the children’s need. “We want to empower the kids and have them be part of solution,” she said.

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