By Martin J. Kidston
A new pilot program designed to create communication between cultures through the use of photography is gearing up to put nearly two years of planning to work.
John Well-Off-Man has spent the last two years meeting with the right people, making connections and defining goals. Now he is on the verge of creating a unique multicultural program that uses flashes and film to break down barriers.
Well-Off-Man said his idea is modeled after the concept behind the foreign exchange program, where kids experience a culture different than their own. But according to Well-Off-Man, the students dont necessarily have to travel out of the country to get that foreign experience.
Although the Rocky Boys Indian Reservation is only 30 miles from Havre, its unfamiliar to the non-Indian residents of the Havre community, Well-Off-Man said. Theres a lack of understanding of Indian culture and a fear of going onto the reservation and negative stereotypes result.
But the stereotypes work both ways, Well-Off-Man said, and his program, titled Photography, An Image of Each Other, is designed to abolish those stereotypes by creating better communication and interaction between cultures.
Its a healing journey between two diverse communities, Well-Off-Man said. Its designed to enhance positive thinking and to build a cultural bridge between different worlds.
Well-Off-Man said the program will take four students from Havre High School and four from Rocky Boys Indian Reservation. The groups will then be paired so that Indians and non-Indians work together in groups of two. An instructor with be assigned to each group as it visits both cultures, the host student acting as the guide and making introductions.
Non-Indian students will be given assignments to complete on the reservation, Well-Off-Man said. Native students will in turn complete their assigned projects in Havre, escorted by their counterparts.
The program is designed to be a two-year project, teaching students how to use everything from cameras to developing film to matting the pictures they shoot.
My long-range goal is to establish a permanent program that benefits both communities, Well-Off-Man said. This program will eventually train future photographers and art students and help establish the Heritage Center as a future arts co-op center for young photographers.
Donna McGregor, curator at the H. Earl Clack Museum, said that Well-Off-Mans work is bringing the photography program closer to reality. However, even as the museum offers students free space for a dark room and workshop, both McGregor and Well-Off-Man said more money needs to be raised. It will go toward the equipment for the program, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.
So far, the cultural exchange/photography program, An Image of Each Other, has received $4,000 from the Montana Arts Council, $2,000 from the Montana Community Foundation, and for the dark room, $520 from First Security Bank in Havre.
But more is needed, and McGregor and Well-Off-Man are hoping other local businesses and individuals will make contributions.
This will give a real and lasting alternative to both privileged and disadvantaged youth while in high school, Well-Off-Man said.
The H. Earl Clack Museum will host a photography exhibit at the end of the school year displaying the students work.
To find out more about the program, or to make a donation, call the H. Earl Clack Museum at 265-4000.