By Ann Reily
---- — If you had just a few words to tell the world what matters most to you, what would you say?
The opportunity to answer that question will take place next Saturday, June 8, when photographer Robert X. Fogarty visits Newburyport.
With the help of dry-erase markers and volunteers, participants in Dear World/Dear Newburyport will write their messages somewhere on their skin — arms, necks, backs and even faces are popular choices. Fogarty will take their portraits during two events, one at Chococoa Baking Co. from 1 to 3:30 p.m. and the other in the Tannery Atrium from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
The portraits will be compiled into an exhibit and video presentation planned for Saturday, June 15, at City Hall. Select images will also be displayed this summer in storefronts at the Tannery Marketplace and around town, said Julie McConchie, a member of The Actors Studio board of directors and program chairwoman for Dear World/Dear Newburyport.
McConchie said she pitched the idea of bringing Fogarty here last year when The Actors Studio started planning a photo salon series, “Art Changes Everything,” which featured four, once-a-month presentations by noted photographers earlier this year.
Fogarty started Dear World, which he describes on his website as “part business/art project/social experiment,” as a love letter to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and has since expanded it throughout the world. He has taken pictures of thousands of people, from ordinary citizens to survivors of disasters to celebrities including Edward Norton, Susan Sarandon and Seal.
McConchie met Fogarty when she went to New Orleans last June for the Global Events Partners Summit, where he photographed attendees and then later showed the images during a reception.
Helping each other with messages and waiting to be photographed provided a unique bonding experience, McConchie said.
“You’re in line with these strangers, and it facilitates these beautiful conversations,” she said. “It engenders a really beautiful connection.”
For her messages, McConchie chose the words “Mother Nature” and “Human spirit.”
“I was thinking about the triumph of human spirit, how New Orleans came together after Hurricane Katrina,” she said.
Seeing everyone’s portraits together struck her as really powerful, she said.
“The messages were really wide and diverse,” she said. “I found it really moving.”
She thought the project would be a perfect fit with the Newburyport community.
“Newburyport as a community is as passionate about the community as New Orleans is,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to engage the community in a deeper conversation.”
McConchie said she can’t wait to see what people come up with for the Newburyport event, which is supported by the Institution for Savings, the mayor’s office and the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce. Participants can pose for individual portraits or team up with family members or friends.
A preview of messages is currently on display outside the Jabberwocky Bookshop in the Tannery Marketplace, via index cards that answer the question “What matters most?” The exhibit encourages passers-by to add their own thoughts to either a staircase or a hanging umbrella outside the store. The cards range from lighthearted answers such as “chicken nuggets” and “gymnastics” to more serious responses like “love,” “my family” and “God.”
For more information about Dear World, visit www.dearworld.me. The Actors Studio will also have a booth with information at this Sunday’s farmers market at the Tannery.
If you go
When: Saturday, June 8, 1 to 3 p.m.
Where: Chococoa, 19 Liberty St., Newburyport. Portraits will be taken in The Actors Studio.
How much: $25 per portrait, includes one digital image and one ticket to the June 15 reception.
When: Saturday, June 8, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Where: Tannery Atrium, Water Street entrance, Newburyport. Portraits will be taken in the dance studio.
How much: $35 per person, includes pizza, beer, entertainment by Pentucket High jazz musicians, one digital image and one ticket to the June 15 reception.
Screening and reception
When: Saturday, June 15, 7 to 10 p.m.
Where: Newburyport City Hall, 60 Pleasant St.
How much: Free for those who had portraits taken, $25 otherwise.
More information: Features food from local restaurants and performances by blue, The Inn on the Beach’s jazz band and Exit Dance Theatre. Proceeds benefit The Actors Studio.
For reservations to either portrait event or the reception, call 978-465-1229 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com/producer/265766.