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Flood Survivors Find Emotional Healing in Photography Project

More than just an art activity, the project is a way to support emotional resiliency.

The hand-scrawled messages range from triumphant to heartbreaking, and their writers’ facial expressions run the gamut from goofy to weary. Every photo portrait made by local artist Peggy Dyer tells a story, and the very process of sharing those stories is proving to be an exercise in emotional resilience and healing for survivors of last year’s devastating floods.

Boulder County artist Peggy Dyer will lead an interactive photography activity as part of the “Rebuilding Jamestown” flood commemoration event Sept. 12-13.

During the activity, Jamestown residents will be encouraged to pose for a photo, holding a personalized message that conveys their flood story and/or current state of recovery. Copies of each photo will be printed on-site and participants will design personalized backgrounds for their photos, which Jamestown will then incorporate into a community art installation that tells the collective story of their shared flood experience.

In addition to the Jamestown activity, Dyer made portraits during the BoCo Strong Flood Commemoration Week Kickoff event  Sept. 7, at Gateway Park in Boulder.

 “More than just an art activity, the project is a way to support emotional resiliency for flood survivors. For some, the exercise encourages them to focus on their resiliency and how far they’ve come since their lives were upended by the floods one year ago; for others, the act of sharing their story helps them connect with others in the same boat and realize they’re not alone in this journey,” explained Mary Steffens, a Red Cross flood recovery specialist who has been working with Jamestown on long-term recovery efforts.

The Red Cross is providing funding for Dyer’s Jamestown project. In addition to supporting individual participants’ emotional well-being, the Red Cross views the project as beneficial to the overall community resilience in Jamestown. “Jamestown is an artistic community; it’s part of their culture. So art is an excellent way to enable residents to talk about their emotions and for individuals to connect with each other. Folks realize, ‘We’re not alone. I may be struggling, but others are, too, and we’re all in this together,’” Steffens said.

The Jamestown activity is part of Dyer’s broader “One Million Faces” project. Dyer has set out to capture one million photos of unique individuals. Earlier this year, she took the project to Lyons Elementary, where the touching, flood-related messages and expressions of Lyons youth inspired plans to expand the project to other flood-affected communities. Watch the video:

“I created the One Million Faces Project to paint a portrait of America. I want to inspire a sense of connection, and community, and spread hope, love and peace all along the way,” Dyer said. “I believe that if I can inspire people to create, to laugh that more light will shine. Let’s change the world, one face at a time.”